The ESRC Centre for Population Change, through collaboration with the Office for National Statistics, has improved the accuracy of current and future population estimates for the UK, providing policymakers, planners and business with better evidence on which to build policy and plan public services, as well as accurate data for business decisions.

Impacts

The ESRC Centre for Population Change (CPC) has worked with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) over the last decade to develop better measures of the three drivers of population change – fertility, mortality and migration – improving the evidence base for UK national and local policy on issues which affect us all.

  • CPC has informed population-relevant discussions at more than 90 events with civil servants and policymakers in government and local authorities.
  • CPC’s methodological improvements to population projections are used in all aspects of policy planning:
  • Early life: Improved fertility estimation has provided local authorities with better means to predict demand for and delivery of key services such as nursery and early years learning, schools and maternity services.
  • Pensions and insurance: New methodology for estimating life expectancy at older ages has informed the way pension, life and health insurance products are priced and helped people better plan their pension and care needs.
  • Student migration: Post-study work visas for international students were reintroduced following a CPC, ONS and Universities UK collaboration that helped to revise inaccurate figures on international student out-migration. Research showed that 95% of foreign students who intended to leave the country after graduation had left the UK six months later.
  • COVID-19: CPC is developing more effective estimates of excess mortality due to COVID-19, taking account of changing population structures and long-term trends in mortality. More accurate estimation is crucial in determining the effect of the present pandemic and its differing impacts within the population and CPC is working closely with ONS to ensure the methods are applied.

"The ESRC Centre for Population Change is dedicated to improving the core demographic data, and its analysis, which form part of our national statistics. Without this rigorous assessment and methodological progress, we don’t have accuracy. And without accuracy, we are unable to efficiently plan for the future and govern effectively. I have no doubt that the work of CPC has had an impact on policymaking in the UK; it has improved the measurement of fertility, mortality and migration, enhanced statistical methods and accuracy, and it continues to provide vital socioeconomic evidence that will help our society to progress.” (Professor Sir Ian Diamond, UK’s National Statistician, Head of the Government Statistical Service and the Government Analysis Function, and Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority Board)

About the research

The Centre for Population Change (CPC), launched in 2009, is the UK’s first research centre to focus on understanding what drives population change and its implications for society.

“Understanding our population – how many people there are, their ages, where they live, who they live with and how they are likely to behave – is critical to government and to business,” explains CPC Director, Professor Jane Falkingham.

Over the last decade more than 50 CPC researchers and PhD students from around the world have helped improve the measurement of the drivers of demographic change, resulting in more accurate population projections and statistics to support policy, planning and business decisions. Their research also explores what demographic change means for society and people living in it. For example, CPC research looks at impacts of policy on some of the country’s most vulnerable groups; their work forecasts that the number of unpaid carers in the UK will rise from 7 million to over 10 million by 2050. “Highlighting the growing importance of unpaid carers and their role in supporting older people to remain living independently in the community helps draw attention to the need for appropriate employer and policymaker responses,” says Professor Falkingham.

CPC’s innovative statistical modelling techniques and new methodologies have remedied inaccuracies and shortcomings in existing data that can hamper decision-making. CPC helped develop, for example, new fertility projection techniques to ensure that local authorities can avoid, as has happened in the past, wrongly forecasting the number of school places required and resources required.

From its outset CPC worked closely with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to ensure it addressed the most relevant policy topics. The strong relationship between CPC and ONS has been built through open exchange, shared goals and mutual trust in the quality and accuracy of both organisations’ work, allowing co-production of research on issues of policy concern. As a result, recent research has focused quickly on the complex problems posed by COVID-19, offering timely evidence on issues as wide-ranging as COVID- 19’s impact on existing socio-economic inequalities to the positive benefits of lockdown for parent-child relationships.