Government makes fresh call for immigration controls as census confirms ageing population
Scotland’s population hit its highest-ever level in March 2022 although population growth was slower than in all other parts of the UK and there are now more over 65s in the country than there are people under the age of 15.
In its first release of information from Scotland’s delayed census, National Records of Scotland said the total number of people living in Scotland on Census Day – 20 March 2022 – hit 5.4 million after growing by three per cent since the last census was taken in 2011.
Although the number was the highest ever recorded in Scotland, population growth was slower than in 2011 – when the number of people in the country had risen by almost five per cent over 10 years – and the three per cent is lower than the growth rate seen in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland.
The Scottish census was carried out a year later than in other parts of the UK because the Scottish Government did not want to run the process during the coronavirus pandemic. However, in the 10-year period from 2011 to 2021 the population in England and Wales increased by just over six per cent while the total number of people living in Northern Ireland rose by five per cent.
The figures showed that Scotland has a rapidly ageing population, with the number of people aged 65 and over increasing by 22.5 per cent since the last census while those in the newborn to age 14 cohort decreased by 2.5 per cent and the number of people aged 15 to 64 decreased by one per cent.
This is broadly similar to the picture in the rest of the UK, with the 65-plus age group increasing by 20 per cent in England and Wales and by 24 per cent in Northern Ireland. However, Jon Wroth-Smith, director of census statistics at National Records of Scotland, warned that with over a million people now in the older age bracket there is going to be increasing pressure on services such as social care.
“People aged 65 and over outnumber people under 15,” he said.
“It is important that we understand how our population is ageing so we can prepare for it. These changes will put greater demand on health and social care services."
The Scottish Government has long been calling for the UK Government to devolve immigration powers so it can attract more working-age people to help pay for the ageing population via taxes.
The census figures showed that the population grew due to inward migration as, with more deaths than births over the period, the overall population would have shrunk by 49,800 if people had not chosen to move to Scotland.
Constitution secretary Angus Robertson said the government plans to introduce a talent attraction and migration service to support more people to live and work here and will continue pressing Westminster for control of immigration.
“Today’s publication represents a historic moment with the largest population ever recorded by Scotland’s census of 5.4 million, an increase of 2.7 per cent since the previous census in 2011,” he said.
“It also confirms this growth has been driven by inward migration, demonstrating that Scotland is an attractive place to come to live and work.
“However, we know Scotland faces an ongoing population challenge with fewer births than deaths registered in Scotland since 2011, which reinforces just how damaging Brexit continues to be for Scotland with the loss of freedom of movement.
“The census also shows that, in line with many other countries, our population is ageing. Understanding these changes in the population will allow local authorities and the government to adapt vital public services to better meet the needs of those living and working in Scotland – including our large, established migrant community, whose contribution we greatly welcome.
“As outlined in the Programme for Government, we will publish an Addressing Depopulation Action Plan, which will set out the first phase of our response to population decline occurring in some of Scotland’s communities.”
It comes after a report from Migration Policy Scotland, which was carried out by Diffley Partnership at the beginning of this year, showed that Scottish attitudes to migration are changing, with 28 per cent of respondents saying they want lower immigration levels compared with 58 per cent in 2014.
Of the 1,162 respondents, 39 per cent said they wanted to see immigration increase, with 12 per cent saying it should increase a lot and 26 per cent saying it should increase a little. Just over a third said it should stay the same.
Further census data will start being released in the early part of 2024, including information on ethnicity and sexual orientation.
"The detailed population data we will publish in spring is vital for community planning right down to neighbourhood level,” said Janet Egdell, chief executive of National Records of Scotland.
“The topic data we will publish in summer will provide amazing insights into the characteristics of Scotland's population. This includes important new data on sexual orientation, trans status or history, and veterans."