Do we need a new house every four minutes because of immigration?

10 June 2016

"If immigration continues at the current rate our population will be 80 million by 2040, and just to cope with that, we need to build a new house every four minutes, night and day, just to cope with the current numbers"

Nigel Farage, 7 June 2016

There are about 65 million people living in the UK right now.

An estimated 333,000 more ended up living here last year, thanks to a near record level of net migration into the UK.

If immigrants live in the same size households as the rest of the population, with 2.4 people in each household on average, then that means one new household every four minutes for last year. But we don't know a great deal about the actual size of recent immigrant households.

If, and it’s a very big if, net migration continues to be at this record high for the next 25 years, then we end up with something like 80 million people in the country.

We’ve asked UKIP for the source of Nigel Farage’s figures, as similar claims have been made recently using different reasoning and time-frames.

80 million people in the UK assumes record high immigration continues for 25 years

Net migration is currently at a record high, one third of a million people last year.

If you assume that immigration will stay that high until 2040, and you include the births and deaths of people from the UK, there would be about 78 million people in the country by 2040.

Taking into account the fact that immigrants have children while they're in the UK, you likely end up closer to 80 million.

But, as the claim says, that’s assuming that immigration stays at the current rate for the next 25 years, when the current rate is a record high.

No way to be certain about future immigration

If net migration was 333,000 in 2015, what will it be in 2016? Are we experiencing a bump that will flatten out soon, or is this the ‘new normal’ level? Might it increase further still?

There’s no way to tell, although we can perhaps be a little surer in the immediate future. The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford says that in the short-term, there’s no reason to expect dramatic changes in the level of net migration. In the longer term, it’s much more difficult to predict anything sensible.

So can’t those population projections help?

Not very much. These aren’t forecasts, or predictions of the future. They’re ‘projections’ – which are based in part on looking at what’s happened in the past as a basis for working out what might happen in the future. According to the ONS, the projections:

“are not forecasts and do not attempt to predict the impact that future government policies, changing economic circumstances or other factors (for example, government policies on immigration or student fees), might have on demographic behaviour”.

If you look at the projections, they have net migration at a flat 185,000 a year from 2020 to eternity. No one genuinely predicts that is going to happen. It’s just a working suggestion, based on the past data the ONS is using.

The ONS is grappling with the same issue everyone has: we can’t predict where people will choose to live, work or travel, five, ten or twenty years into the future.

Immigrants’ household sizes will vary

If you divide estimated net migration of 333,000 by the average UK household size, which is currently about 2.4 people, you get around 140,000 households a year. That's a household every four minutes.

So it’s easy to see where this kind of claim is coming from. The problem is there’s reason to think the picture is more complex than just dividing by averages.

First, just having a figure for households doesn't mean this many 'houses' would also be needed. More than one household can share the same building.

Second, people who’ve recently arrived in the UK won’t necessarily have the same household sizes as the rest of the population. Past research has suggested that recently-arrived immigrants tend to take up fewer households than the rest of the population.

If this were the case, the number of extra households directly due to immigration could be lower, although it still wouldn’t change the ‘per minute’ figure a great deal.

Housing needs will also vary across the country. Household projections for England produced by the government are described as the starting point for local authorities considering their housing needs, but the actual housing required will vary from area to area, especially given immigrant communities aren't dispersed evenly across the country.

Those household projections do suggest a much lower housing need—up to one every seven or eight minutes—which claims like this one have been based on before.

The drawback of these is that they’re based on 2012 net migration levels, which were estimated at about half the current level.

Newer household projections will be released in July, which will give us a better sense, but ultimately more research is needed before this question can be answered any better.

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