It was announced today that the UK population increased more last year than at any time in almost half a century. According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the number of births in the UK is now at its highest since 1991, with 797,000 during the year to mid-2010 and this contribution to overall population growth is greater than that from net migration.
So why has there been a new baby boom without a war for an excuse?
Increased government support for families – notably the introduction of the Working Families’ Tax Credit (WFTC) in 1999 and greater generosity of means-tested Income Support (IS) payments – has coincided with a rise in births among couples who left school at 16 relative to those who stayed in education after 18.
According to research summarised in the Autumn 2008 issue of Research in Public Policy, the probability of having a birth increased by 1.2 percentage points among women with low education, which equates to nearly 45,000 additional births. The study also finds that the decision whether to have children – or when to begin having them – seems more susceptible to financial incentives than the decision over how many to have. The UK birth rate has increased steadily since 2001 and now stands at an average of 1.9 births per woman, the highest level since 1974.
Some women told researchers they had stopped using contraception. The more generous welfare system is being credited with contributing to an increase in the overall UK birth rate, which is now at its highest level since 1974. The report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies concludes: "We have shown that more generous Government support coincided with an increase in births among the group most affected by the [welfare] reforms.
The study says that the introduction of Working Families Tax Credit and an increase in Income Support between 1999 and 2003 triggered a rise in taxpayer spending on children "unprecedented" in the previous 30 years. Because the reforms were targeted at the poorest families with children, the value of their state handouts increased by 10 per cent of their total household income. For couples who both left school at 16, the reforms meant an increase in benefits of 45 per cent, from £39 a week to £56.76. This is a rise almost twice as much as the handouts for which a couple who went on to sixth form college would be eligible, which increased by 25 per cent to £37.27 a week. The researchers then looked at fertility rates both before the reforms were announced and after, for a sample of 101,330 women aged between 20 and 45. They found a large increase in the first year after the benefits were made more generous, particularly among women who had left school as soon as possible. The results show a 15 per cent increase in the probability of having a baby in the "low education group".
People will have different views about whether a larger population is a good or bad thing. What cannot be rationally disputed is that dipping into taxpayers pockets to encourage the births of a whole new generation of welfare dependants can only take us closer to the economic collapse that state spending and borrowing has speeded us toward. Labour justified this handout on the grounds of reducing child poverty. The result will be lots more children in homes where inadequate parents don't have the will or the ability to raise these children to be responsible and contributing members of society.