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United Kingdom: Future Demographic Trends

Volume 744: debated on Thursday 14 March 2013

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on the United Kingdom of future demographic trends.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on taking two debates on the trot and, through her, I thank her officials very much for having taken the trouble to ring me to ask what issues I wanted to raise with her today.

Initiating a debate on population is to enter a minefield which all too easily deteriorates into an unattractive combination of finger-wagging preaching on the one hand and the denial of any challenges on the other. However, opinion research indicates that demographic trends are of great concern to the citizens of this country and, indeed, to the citizens of the world.

Perhaps I should begin by saying what this debate is not about. It is not a debate about immigration under another name; it is not a debate about relative population sizes and whether there are more white people or black people; it is not about the relative sizes of faiths and whether there are more Christians, Jews or Muslims; it is not about the relative sizes of social classes and whether there are more rich people or poor people; and, finally, it is not about preaching or personal example, because I need to put on record straight away that I have four children. It is about the staggering absolute increase in the world and UK population hour by hour and what that may mean for us, for our children and for our grandchildren. It is the elephant in the room of all our efforts, first, to relieve abject poverty; secondly, to offer people a decent standard of living; thirdly, to provide everybody with a reasonable chance of self-realisation and fulfilling their talents, dreams and aspirations; and, lastly, but not least, to avoid a possible final degradation of our world.

Today, in the more reflective atmosphere of your Lordships’ House, I hope we can discuss the extent of those demographic challenges and what if anything can be done about them. It has proved to be an issue that has been hard to raise in the past, in part because it is an extremely sensitive and personal matter, in part because past political efforts have exploded in the face of individuals—Keith Joseph’s political career was effectively ended by a single speech in Birmingham—and in part because of certain false alarms, such as that of Thomas Malthus and, more recently, Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book, The Population Bomb.

What is the position now? The annual growth in the world’s population is about 1.1% per annum. That may seem a pretty small percentage, but in absolute terms it means that the world population is increasing by more than 70 million a year. That is more than 200,000 every day of the year. In the hour and a half that this debate is supposed to last, the world’s population will have increased by 13,000 people. “But”, I hear people ask, “is this rate not projected to slow down?”. Yes, it is a bit. Median projections suggest that by 2050 the world’s population will be increasing by only 40 million per annum, or 7,000 more people during a debate of this length.

Whatever the increase, whether it is 70 million or 40 million, I invite the House to consider what that will mean for the need for housing, health, education, employment and resource use. Either way, the world’s population is projected to increase from 7 billion today to 9.2 billion in 2050. Thomas Malthus was worried about food shortage. He overlooked an equally important precious resource: water. The UN’s best estimates are that the planet can provide water for a maximum of 9.5 billion people so, by 2050, we shall be at that limit. That figure is based on the assumption that the people are where the water is—probably a false assumption. We need to remember that all projections about population have an error range; 9.2 billion is the median. The top of the range is 11 billion. What about water then?

After that litany of despair, what can be done? First, we must avoid seeing it as someone else’s problem. Desperate people do desperate things. We may think that times are tough here in the United Kingdom at present, but for a starving man with a starving family in an unstable country, this is El Dorado, and desperate people will find ways to get here. Efforts to provide a degree of stability and prosperity—a prosperity modest by our standards—are critical. I hope that the Government’s overseas aid budget will continue to target those failed or failing states. The single most important step to help slow the population explosion is to ensure that every woman has control over her own fertility. For a whole host of personal reasons, most women seek to limit the number of children they have. It would be helpful if, when my noble friend replies, she can reaffirm the UK’s commitment to provide contraceptive advice and guidance and tell the House what progress has been made and what the targets are for the next few years.

That brings me to a difficult issue, about which I have given my noble friend’s office advance warning. After this debate appeared on the Order Paper, I was made aware of a group of Catholics calling themselves Catholics for Choice—I am not a Catholic, by the way—who wanted to raise the position of the Vatican at the United Nations. In short, they ask, “Is it a religion or is it a state?” They point out that no other religion has a comparable position in world affairs, and if it is a state, the briefing they have sent me points out that it is an unusual one. It has only 594 residents, all of whom are citizens of other countries. Of those 594, only 100 are women and it is estimated that there are no more than 10 children in residence at any given time.

The briefing that the group sent me went on to outline how the Vatican switches between these roles. Thus, at last week’s Women’s Conference at the UN in New York, the Catholic Church claimed observer status because it was a religion but reserved the right to participate in UN discussions because it was a state under the title of the Holy See. Given the Catholic Church’s deep-seated hostility to giving women control over their fertility, this issue is not going to go away, and I look forward to hearing the Government’s views on it.

In the rest of my remarks, I want to turn to the no less challenging position of the United Kingdom. The population of the UK is now over 63 million people. The 2011 census revealed that in the 10-year period 2001-11, the population of England and Wales increased by 3.7 million people, an increase of 7.1%, which is the fastest rate of growth since the first census in 1801. The ONS mid-range projections suggest that the UK’s population will continue to increase and will reach 70 million by 2027—another 7 million people. What do 7 million people look like? The city of Manchester has 500,000 people in it, so think of 14 Manchesters. If you want to take the larger Manchester conurbation, including Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan, which together have a population of more than 2 million, then think of three of these. Maybe we are going to have to build three Greater Manchesters by 2027.

There is a further complication. It is not just that England is already the sixth most densely populated country in the world—after Bangladesh, Taiwan, South Korea, Lebanon and Rwanda—but that the population is not spread evenly across the country. The bulk of the population increase will surely take place in the south-east, where we will probably have to build two out of those three Greater Manchesters

What is to be done? “Stop immigration” is a popular cry. That would make some difference but perhaps not as much as one might think. The Migration Observatory at Oxford University has pointed out that with 100,000 migrants per annum—the Government’s target—the population would reach 70 million in 2035, but with zero migration it would be 66 million—a difference of 4 million. On the other hand, those who say, “Unless we have more young people we cannot afford to look after our existing old people”, have forgotten the implications of compound interest. We would be engaging in, to quote Sir David Attenborough, a gigantic population Ponzi scheme. We have to recognise that at some point we have to achieve a stable, balanced population of this country. There will be considerable strains during the transition phase, but at some point someone somewhere must be brave enough to state this fact and to withstand the misinterpretation, misconstruction, misreporting and misquotation that will surely follow. To inform the general public in a balanced, unsensational way, we need an authoritative body to undertake the necessary research and writing. Population affects every government department—think of the impact of building three Greater Manchesters on every aspect of government—yet population is the responsibility of none. A useful first step in analysing this exceptionally complex problem could be to create a new Minister, or add to the duties of an existing interdepartmental one, to take responsibility for this issue.

To conclude, whatever one’s views of this issue, surely we must all agree with Sir John Sulston, who is leading a study of global population for the Royal Society, when he said that the target should not be to cram as many people as possible on to the planet. He went on to say:

“We have to look at what will allow humankind to flourish. We want to aim for a high quality of life and not just to scrape along”.

Future generations deserve no less.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, for securing and introducing this debate. During the 13-odd years that I have been in your Lordships’ House, this is the second time that I have spoken in two debates in a row, and the first time that these two debates have been within 20 minutes of each other. If today’s experience is any guide, I would not want to repeat it and I would not commend it with much enthusiasm to anyone in the House.

We are talking about the impact of demographic trends. Within the UK, the population as of 2010 is 62.3 million, expected to rise to 67.2 million in 2020 and 73.2 by 2035. These predictions cannot always be relied upon, but by and large there is reason to believe that the margin of error will not be very large. It is also expected that the median age will rise from 39.7 today to 39.9 in 2020 and 42.2 in 2035. Today people over 75 constitute 4.9% of the population; by 2035 that is likely to rise to 8.9%, almost double. Those who are 85 or over constitute 1.4% of the population, and that is likely to rise to 3.5% by 2035. The working age of 30 to 60 years is also likely to rise, but rather slowly, from 24.8 currently to 26.7 in 2035.

These figures make sense only if seen in a comparative context. The picture in France is roughly the same. The population today is 64.7 million, likely to rise to 67.8 million in 2020 and 71.3 million by 2035, an increase of 10%. In Italy, again, there is a likely increase between now and 2035 of 8%. The only major country—other than Poland, Lithuania and others—that is a striking exception is Germany, where the population is likely to fall by 6% between now and 2035. The current population is 81.7 million, likely to fall to 80.1 million in 2020 and then 76.3 million by 2035.

As the population rises, that has an impact in terms of who is falling and who is rising. The number of Christians, for example, declined between 2001 and 2011 by 13%. The number of those with no religious affiliations increased by 10% during the same 10-year period and there is reason to believe, so the experts tell us, that the same trend is likely to continue, so that by 2035 the number of Christians will have fallen dramatically and those with no affiliation will have risen.

The percentage of Muslims and ethnic minority children is likely to rise, partly through immigration and partly because of fertility and an increase in the number of children. It is also expected that there will be an increase in qualifications at level 4 and above, so more and more of our people are going to acquire higher qualifications. Rather surprisingly, the report says that childlessness is on the increase, and the number of children per family is falling. However, it is falling unevenly: in white communities, the size of the family is much smaller—1.5 or 1.6 children, sometimes even less—while among the ethnic minorities the families are larger, and their population is therefore likely to rise faster than that of the rest of society.

So far, we have relied on migration to provide skills that we have lacked. Increasingly, it is expected that by 2035 the sources of migration will dry up. Indians will have no reason to come here; in fact, more and more of our people will want to go to India, China, Pakistan or elsewhere. If some migrants are available, more European countries will be competing for them, and our share is likely to fall because we might be less attractive than other countries. These are the broad trends over the next 30 years, so what are the likely consequences?

I shall concentrate on three or four that follow directly from what I have said and are not cultural factors that might be contingent and may not happen. It is striking that the percentage of south Asian doctors is rising. Currently it is about 23%, and it is likely to rise to 35% by 2020. By 2035, the proportion of south Asian doctors may be 46% to 48%; every second doctor will be of south Asian origin. By and large, they will be working not as GPs but in hospitals, and many of them will be women. Here I rely on evidence given to me by two distinguished doctors, Dr Ashtok Pathak and Dr Karam Marwah, a consultant and a GP, who have access to some interesting details.

As the population gets older, medical care will be costly. It is said that those over 75 demand more than twice the amount of medical services and money than those between 35 and 44. More chronic illnesses and expensive drugs will have to be taken care of.

In the next three decades, because of family breakdown, growing loneliness, chronic aliments, weak family structures and less familial and social care, there is likely to be an increase in mental health problems, far more than we have seen in our hospitals, which will have to be taken care of. At a slightly different level, the entire NHS structure will have to be looked at very carefully because the distinction between hospitals and GPs cannot be continued in the way it is. Local hospitals will have to go. Instead, we are going to have distant specialist hospitals and more care will be provided at home and in the community.

As the population gets older, politics will change. Voting patterns will change. One never knows how they will change. It depends on the state of the world by 2035, but voting patterns will change, as will the issues that matter to people. For those between 30 and 45 or 50, certain issues matter far more to them than to the elderly population. As the number of people over 75 increases, the issues that matter to them will be different and they will dominate our cultural and political life, and political parties, including my own, will need to take notice of that.

One of the important impacts will be a profound change in national identity. If, according to projected figures for 2025 and 2035, there will be more ethnic minorities, more Muslims, more elderly people, more women and more south Asians and others in visible positions of power, what it means to be British will have to be defined very differently.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on initiating this debate. I listened with much interest also to the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. Looking across the world, demographic change is increasingly a reality. I declare an interest as head of the International Longevity Centre in the UK and co-president of the family of ILCs across the world—there are 14, soon to be 16, of them. I am extremely privileged to have some insight into the trends that demographic changes are bringing everywhere.

Along with everyone, I want to be able to celebrate this demographic change. It is wonderful. We can all expect to grow old, which is a new phenomenon. It has never happened before in the history of mankind. Longevity is a good thing, provided we adapt to it and change our institutions and services accordingly to meet the challenge.

I have just come back from Japan where I was working for a few days. Recently, when I was privileged to chair one of the Ditchely Park conferences, a statistician reported that statistically, actuarially, even if not realistically, it is possible to calculate when the last Japanese man or woman will live in Japan. This is because Japan has not encouraged immigration and the population is static. The Japanese have very few children, and its population is ageing more rapidly than that of any other country of the world. There is a huge warning there that we need to balance our population ageing so that we can reap its benefits and plan for the huge challenges that ageing brings with it.

Recent medical advances have been so successful that we have conquered or controlled many of the serious illnesses that used to kill people. People can go on living for a long time with chronic conditions, and therefore we have the enormous challenge of dealing with the different types of dementia in all countries. Dementia is a huge challenge. This morning, I was at the dementia village at the innovations conference at ExCeL, which is looking in a novel way at innovations that enable us to live a quality of life with the different forms of dementia. That is a wonderful innovation because this is perhaps the greatest challenge that we all face. We know that one in three of us who reach old age—85 or over—will have some form of dementia, and we must prepare for that by bringing the correct services across the board to serve people who have dementia.

We have to look more widely if, across the world, we are to look positively at the ageing of the population: productive ageing. That does not mean that everybody has to be in the workplace, but it means looking at what older people bring to society. We know that various political parties in this country and in other advanced economies could not survive without the older volunteers who maintain them, particularly before elections. We know that in Africa without the older population many more children would grow up without any adult care, supervision or help because of the ravages of AIDS. We know that in many countries, you still do not talk about a retirement age but go on working until you die because there is no such thing as retirement and an awful lot of people depend on your activity for their livelihood. Whatever age you are, you depend on the older population for much of your welfare and productivity.

Ageing is not a disaster, it is a triumph, but in this country and elsewhere we have to adapt very fast if we are to keep up with the change. That means looking across the board, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, insisted. For example, we have not designed our built environment, our housing and our homes adequately for an ageing population. Transport has not come to terms with the fact that the travelling public will rapidly become much older than they are now. On education, with adequate IT or television, perhaps in your own home or in the village community centre, you can watch a lecture given by the leading professor of whatever subject you are studying. Why do we retain absolute age identities when we are learning? Why cannot a 14 year-old and a 64 year-old learn a language or history together? Why do we segregate people ruthlessly according to their age? It is of another era.

We should look again at our education, as we look at employment. We must bring the skills and experience of older people into the workforce along with the innovatory ideas and new approaches of the young. We must encourage multi-generational working and all forms of education. We must realise that older people can learn, retrain and adapt as our retirement ages increase, and can continue to work much later in life. We must design our buildings and places of work accordingly. There must be much more flexible working and cleverly designed buildings and methods of working to cope with the ageing of the population.

There is an ethical imperative to address the ageing issue correctly and to work so that, in all industrialised countries, we sort out the imperatives of adequate pensions and benefits. We realise that the ageing of society is changing everything.

Today, the excellent report from the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, is published. It looks at some of the challenges posed by an ageing population in this country. We know that, as yet, we do not have the cohesive approach to ageing that we need. Governments still work in silos. We still do not bring the different systems together. I hope that the draft Care and Support Bill—for which I have been pleased to work on the pre-legislative scrutiny—will help if we have government support to bring things together so that we are not separating healthcare, social care and housing in the way that has happened up until now. It is only with a co-ordinated approach, difficult as it is with the legal responsibilities of different departments, that we can tackle that. If we do not, we will not meet the challenge of an ageing population. We have the opportunity to do it now, and we can.

With the best will in the world, the Government are now making encouraging efforts to co-ordinate care under the banner of well-being and outcomes. Other Governments across Europe and beyond are doing the same thing. It is a marvellous moment for us to celebrate the ageing of the population. If all countries together get this right, we can celebrate and be delighted that we can all hope to live to a great age.

I rise in the gap to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, on introducing the Motion for debate. I will briefly make a general point and a specific point about the United Kingdom.

The general point is that we should be careful of joining in any chorus of Malthusian despair. Malthus was wrong 200 years ago and is still wrong today. My specific point about the UK is that there is a serious problem with the demographic balance of our population. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, has said, we should welcome longevity. However, it will impose a huge cost on our society. Some estimates are that the cost is as great in terms of its fiscal weight as the cost of the fiscal consolidation that we are currently undergoing, if you take into account the impact on pensions, health and social care.

That public spending cost will, if we are not careful, eat into our nation’s capacity to tackle the other big problems we face: global competition, where we have to invest in education, innovation and skills; climate change, which requires a huge programme of infrastructure investment and change; and inequality, in order to raise the life chances of children being brought up in disadvantaged circumstances. If we do not tackle the fiscal problem of ageing, we will find that other problems are very difficult to tackle.

We need in Britain a new inter-generational compact between grandparents and their grandchildren. This is extremely difficult for the political parties to achieve in terms of the normal discourse of political debate. We must try to find a new cross-party consensus about how we cope with the public spending challenges of the ageing society. The report from the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, which has been published today, on which I hope we will have a much longer and more thorough debate in future, is of great significance. This is a real challenge for whoever forms the next Government of Britain. There is a role for the House of Lords as a body which can bring together different political points of view and try to establish a much-needed consensus on this fundamental challenge.

My Lords, I should also like to speak in the gap, having given notice. This is an important debate and we should thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for one of the few debates that really addresses the future of the United Kingdom. That certainly happens occasionally.

My point is about technology and electronic contributions, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, touched. They are extraordinarily important for enabling elderly people whose capacities may begin to decline to understand and to assist them with health, communication, transportation, learning and so on. I have seen examples where this works brilliantly. A friend recently died and, if there had been the information and communication, that need not have happened.

As has just been said, this now provides a technological and industrial opportunity. This interesting report refers to the financial aspect. There is a lot of money in the elderly sector of society. If people could be encouraged to invest in the new methods and technologies and not just in housing, that would provide a boost to our technology and industry. We go from the industrial revolution to the gerontological revolution. Harold Wilson talked about the “white heat of technology”; we will have the white hair of the new technological revolution.

Annexe 17 of the report has an interesting point on the role of the royal college providing completely new designs and ideas. It will be an extraordinary opportunity for quite new ideas and for business. That rather positive note is something that we should think about.

My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, for securing this debate. Although he concentrated on population size, I note that this debate is taking place on the very day of the publication of the Filkin report, Ready for Ageing?, which is very apt. I will concentrate more on that. I also congratulate him because it is less than 24 hours since we heard that a 76 year-old was to take up perhaps the most demanding international job in the world. In congratulating Pope Francis, let us hope that he also serves to remind us that 76 is the new 35.

I also very much take up the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, that we should celebrate this. As she spoke, of course, my noble friend Lord Healey was in his place, the oldest Member of your Lordships’ House. He is not now in his place—I have to confess that he is my hero—but what a wonderful reminder he is of what ageing does.

I take the opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and the members of his committee, as well as Professor Howard Glennerster and Jonathan Portes, who advised them. They have produced much food for thought and undertaken much of the work necessary for what I hope will be a cross-party response to the tasks ahead.

The report notes that we are “woefully underprepared” for the social and economic challenges presented by an ageing society. However, the report begins by drawing a route map. I will not try to better its assessment, but will simply emphasise a few points. First, of course, this issue requires not simply cross-party consensus but a cross-generational consensus. That means listening to the young and listening to the old, and involving them all in the development of new policies and provision. We should not be doing things for or on behalf of the ageing, but with and alongside them.

The issue of fairness between generations is key, as is the issue of responding to disparity between classes. It is an old story that, as one takes the Jubilee Line eastwards from Westminster station, life expectancy drops a year as each station passes. We have to be careful, therefore, not to rank people simply by their numerical age, given that needs, whether for social or medical care, fall for almost everyone in the last six months of their life, virtually regardless of their age of death. We must not allow inequalities present during working lives to continue into pensioner poverty. We need to consider the needs of those who will die younger than average, just as much as the needs of those who will head towards their century.

We also need a range of responses, encouraging self-help via healthy lifestyles, savings, investment and insurance, as well as delivering socially the responses we need. As was mentioned, that includes building more homes, social and medical care, and other support systems. With regard to self-help, we need to encourage insurance and investment, but this means rebuilding trust in the industry, as mentioned in the Filkin report. The Government rejected amendments that we tabled both to the Financial Services Bill and to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill to require those who hold and manage money on behalf of others to have a fiduciary duty towards those investors or beneficiaries. Until that is law, people will be reluctant to take on complicated financial products through lack of confidence. The Government also defeated our attempt to require the financial industry to adopt a code of conduct. We hope they will think again about this.

The situation is much the same with letting, managing and estate agents, who might have an important role in helping older people downsize or move. However, without robust regulation of these, we risk another era of mis-selling or of poor service to this group. Only last week the Government resisted my amendments on requiring an ombudsman for some of these agents, although I am pleased to say that they were defeated. Will the Minister indicate whether they are now willing to accept that requirement? It would be an important safeguard if older people are to downsize and to be able to move to more suitable accommodation.

I will turn to another aspect of self-help: keeping healthy and fit. We know that good diet, exercise and keeping to moderate drinking is part of this. Will the Government explain, which they did not quite do this morning, why, when every medical body considers that minimum unit pricing for alcohol is key to reducing harmful consumption, they are going to listen to the drinks industry instead and bow to its demands to be allowed to peddle cheap booze?

When I hear the drinks industry claim that it is concerned with the older and the poor who have fewer pounds in their pocket, I simply rage. Older people are very vulnerable to alcohol misuse, especially if they are coping with loneliness, depression or bereavement. To pretend it helps them by giving them access to cheap units of alcohol is irresponsible in the extreme. Therefore, in the development of policies to assist our ageing population, can the Minister assure us that the health and well-being of the nation will be put ahead of the industries’ interests, be that the banking industry or the brewers?

This is not just a matter for the individuals concerned. Society and the Government have a key role to play. Charities want to help but are facing severe financial constraints and find already that the demands on them now, let alone in the future, are more than they can respond to. Reverting to the alcohol issue, Alcohol Concern has lost all its government funding, undermining its initiatives on older people’s drinking, among other problems. Will the Government outline what will be done to assist all the relevant charities in the coming years?

We need more homes, with homelessness having increased by 11% between 2010 and 2011. Perhaps we could hear what plans the Government have to increase the housing stock, and particularly the stock appropriate for an older population.

This Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the death of William Beveridge. It is interesting to ask what he would say to us today of these challenges. He would probably suggest that, for the development of a good society, we need a national debate, including women, and all Britons, but perhaps especially the black and ethnic minority groups, and also that we need more devolution. He would probably suggest that we reinvigorate community development, especially given the decline of religious activity, the more varied family formations and the increase in family break-up. He would probably urge us to think about better use of land and transfer of ownership to make better use of it for the changing population. However, I am sure that he would also talk about consistency in programme development. We cannot keep reforming and hope that anything of value will ensue.

The answer to the Question that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, raised today is, according to the Filkin report:

“The Cabinet has not assessed the implications of an ageing society holistically, and has left it to Departments … The Government have not looked at ageing from the point of view of the public nor considered how policies may need to change to equip people better to address longer lives”.

Let us hope that the Government will take this to heart and will now begin to work with this rather different viewfinder.

My Lords, this has been an interesting and challenging debate on an important subject. I am, therefore, grateful to my noble friend Lord Hodgson for raising this important and fascinating subject.

My noble friend Lord Hodgson started off by talking about what this debate was not about. He said that it was not about race, religion or immigration. That probably confirms why I should not be answering this debate, but I will try. He also suggested that there should potentially be a new departmental Minister with responsibilities for all of these issues. I hope to answer this debate well, but not well enough to be given that particular responsibility. When the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, raised all the issues that I could potentially answer from this Dispatch Box, on homelessness, charities, minimum alcohol pricing and welfare, it reaffirmed how wide the debate could be. I think she will forgive me for saying that I probably cannot answer most of the questions that she has raised, but certainly officials have noted all the questions, and I shall make sure that she gets full replies. I follow the lead of my noble friend Lord Hodgson in declaring an interest; my husband and I have five children between us.

The ramifications of changing populations are widespread and significant. They affect all countries in the developed and developing world, and the issues and opportunities which arise from this debate impact on the work of all government departments. Only today, the House of Lords Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change has published an important report on an ageing society. The noble Baroness has already referred to it. The committee discusses the preparations needed, for example, in health and social care and in pensions and savings, and makes important points on attitudes to ageing. We will consider the points made in this report carefully and reflect them in the full range of government policies and programmes.

Speaking personally, I believe that demographic issues and the interrelationship with economic growth and development possibly in some way underlie many of the topics which arise in my FCO portfolio, as well as in my faith and communities portfolio in the Department for Communities and Local Government. I will try to reflect the breadth of comments and issues raised in the short time that I have available.

We know that the UN estimates that the global population is already more than 7 billion, and that this will continue to rise. The medium estimate is that global population will exceed 9 billion by 2050, and 10 billion by 2100. Most of the global population growth will take place in sub-Saharan Africa, and we know that there are already pressures on the availability of water in those areas. In these hotspots, population issues can place great strains on government systems, particularly in the absence of strong economic growth.

There is also an issue about the management of water in these places, which means an improvement is needed in infrastructure and governance. This Government are helping these places around the world, not just because it is the right thing to do but because it is the smart thing to do. Helping these countries helps Britain; investing in them now, before they become unstable, means that we can avoid spending more money on dealing with future problems such as immigration or threats to national security. By 2015, our funding will secure schooling for more people abroad than we educate in the UK, at one-fortieth of the cost. We are not investing this money irresponsibly; we are acutely aware of the duty we have to the taxpayer. This Government have introduced the UK aid transparency guarantee, so people around the world can see exactly what DfID’s spending is going on. I assure my noble friend Lord Hodgson that our commitment to international development will continue.

On family planning, this Government are going to great lengths to help women in other parts of the world take control over their fertility. At the London family planning summit in July 2012, we achieved an extraordinary global breakthrough by the international community pledging to give access to family planning for 120 million women in the world’s poorest countries. We do not want to stop there. Our vision is of a developing world where all women have choice over the size and timing of their families, where no woman dies giving birth, and where all newborn babies survive and thrive. But I want to be absolutely clear: we are talking about voluntary family planning; there is no justification for coercion.

Between now and 2020, we will provide an additional 24 million girls and women with family planning services to prevent the deaths of girls and women for whom an unintended pregnancy carries the risk of fatal consequences. For the next eight years, British support will save the life of a woman in the developing world every two hours, as well as preventing more than 20 million unintended pregnancies, equivalent to one every 10 seconds. My noble friend Lord Hodgson raised the views of the Holy See; we have different views from the Holy See, which has official observer status at the UN. It makes its position on contraception very clear, and we make ours very clear, as do other UN member states. At UN discussions in New York, we are clear that women’s control over their fertility is a cornerstone of development. We know that fertility tends to decline as development expands, and development has often been described as the best form of contraception.

On the impact on the UK, we know that the UK population is already more than 63 million, and current estimates predict it to increase to more than 67 million in the next decade or so. The south-east of the country already has the largest population of any English region, at almost 9 million people. Part of this rise is driven by employment, jobs and growth. This Government have already started trying to rebalance growth across the country. We have developed enterprise zones, local enterprise partnerships and a regional growth fund to do just this, and we are backing these mechanisms with money. The regional growth fund has allocated £2.4 billion to more than 360 projects and programmes already, and last October we announced £25 million of funding for LEPs to bolster core capacity funding. The 24 enterprise zones have already secured around £160 million in private investment and created 1,700 jobs, and this Government are continuing to work with them to fully realise their potential by 2015. This Government are committed to allowing every area the opportunity for growth, which is why these initiatives are not only focused on deprived areas. We are helping local areas to use the tools and funding we have devolved to meet local needs across the country.

Noble Lords raised the issue of age and the ageing population. On age discrimination, we know that our population is ageing, which will bring challenges. We also know that age discrimination will become an increasing problem, which is why a ban on age discrimination came into effect on 1 October 2012. I spoke of the huge value of older people in this House last December. This ban will catch those actions or omissions that result in genuinely unfair discrimination because of age, and allow our ageing population to continue to participate fully in society. We want to make this country one of the best places to grow old in, where older people get excellent care and support when they need it, where people are supported to live independently and where we make the most of the skills and talents everyone has to offer. By doing this we will not only help people to lead fulfilling lives but benefit the economy as a whole.

The noble Lord paraphrased the challenges of an ageing population and how political parties would respond to that. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, raised the issue of older people as volunteers for political parties. I assure her that, from my experience in my previous job, I can absolutely confirm that it is usually the older people who come out and do the hardest work in campaigns.

Much of the focus of this debate is on real and perceived problems that can arise in our country and abroad, on population density, youth unemployment, supporting older people in society, managing pressures on resources and the environment. All Governments need to focus on these issues and plan appropriately across the full range of policies and services. This covers, for example, savings and pensions provision, as well as health services and education. However, we should not lose sight of the advantages of demographic change. Younger populations offer the opportunity of a more productive workforce and hence can boost economic growth. Economic growth in turn offers the opportunity to invest in environmental protection measures. Older populations can provide wisdom and experience, which is often unrecognised and untapped in western economies. More diverse populations offer a competitive advantage in trade and networks in a globalised world.

So my message today is about the need for proper planning and provision, across the private, public and voluntary sectors, coupled with an optimism which comes with the tide of economic development and changes in populations, here and abroad. I once more thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson for bringing forward this timely and important debate.