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SotSW2012 Population & Migration
This chapter explores the demographic composition of the South West, and looks at how changing social trends and government policy may impact upon this part of the country. Understanding population is vital to informing policy and the planning of services - from school places, to health services, housing and welfare provision. As such this chapter provides an overview which should be viewed in the context of the rest of this publication.

Classified as the most rural English region, the South West covers the largest area of the nine English regions. The South West has a relatively small total population; the third smallest of the nine English regions, exceeding only the East Midlands and the North East.

Population Structure: Age

The South West has a greater proportion of inhabitants of
pensionable age than any other English regions (19.6% of the total South West population). This proportion is set to rise; the region is predicted to have over a quarter of its population aged 65+ by 2030, remaining the highest proportion in the country (see Figure 1.1 below).

At a subregional level, the age structure of the population is more varied. In Bristol, Exeter, Swindon and Plymouth for example, the proportion of the population that is of working age is much greater than it is in the South West as
a whole.

Population Structure: Ethnicity

The 2001 Census provides the most reliable and detailed information about ethnicity. According to the last census, 4% of the total regional population was categorised as non-
‘White British’; one of the lowest figures of all the English regions. The principal exception to this is Bristol, where levels of diversity were much closer to the national picture.

ONS has updated its ethnicity statistics on an experimental basis over recent years. The most recent release is for mid-2009. Whilst the proportion of the population classified as non-‘White British’ remains much higher in London than in other parts of England, this proportion remained the same in London between 2001 and 2009, while rising substantially in other areas - more than doubling in the North East and the South West.

The South West still, in 2009, has the second lowest proportion of its population categorised as non-white British, at 7.0% (only exceeding the North East).

Population Trends and Growth
The region’s population increased faster than in England as a whole between 2001 and 2010, growing by 330,000 or 6.7 per cent compared with 5.6 per cent for England.

Projections suggest that the region could have 6.2 million residents by 2030 - 17.1 per cent more than in 2010. This is higher than the projected England increase of 14.4 per cent.

Between 2009 and 2010, the region’s population increased by 0.8%; higher than the annual average growth rate of 0.7% seen in the preceding years of the 21st Century, indicating an increasing rate of growth.

Figure 1.1: Percentage of Population aged 65 and over, 2010 and 2030

[ Zoom ]
Source: ONS, Mid 2010 Population Estimates (Statistical Bulletin)
Components of change
Similar to previous years, between 2009 and 2010, the majority of the region’s growth was a result of in-migration, rather thannatural change.

In fact, the proportion of the region’s growth made up by n
atural change is lower in the South West than in any other English region (see Figure 1.2 below). This reflects both the elderly population of the South West, and the appeal of the region for national migrants.

National Migration

For the first time in recent years, the South East has overtaken the South West as the region with the highest net inflow (see Figure 1.3); in part this is due to an extra 5,120 moves from London into the South East. In the year ending June 2010, the South East had a net inflow of 23,100, whereas the South West had a net inflow of 18,910. The relative difference may be related to the economic climate making moves to the South West less viable, coupled with the South East providing greater employment opportunities (either perceived or actual).

International Migration

Our knowledge of
international migration is more sparse, and the data sources slightly less reliable than those for the monitoring of national migration. The primary source for international migration data is the International Passenger Survey (IPS), which has a small sample size. Immigration data is supplemented with Census data; international emigration - which cannot be covered by the Census - is the most difficult to measure.
The expansion of the European Union (EU) through the accession
of new member states adds a further complication to monitoring. Outside of the Census, the data does not identify individual movements between accession states. Another issue is that numbers of people entering and leaving ports gives no indication of where they end up living.

Overall, estimated net long-term migration to the UK in 2010 was 252,000, this compares to 198,000 in 2009. This is above the previous high figure of 245,000 in 2004 and is now the highest calendar year estimate on record, with study remaining the most common reason for migrating to the UK.

In the South West, estimated net long-term migration to the UK was 15,000 in 2010; the highest since 2006 (17,000), and over double the figure in 2009 (7,000). In 2010 the South East (79,000) and East (55,000) regions had the largest numbers of immigrants outside London, closely followed by the North West (52,000). The South West had the fourth lowest number of immigrants (of all nine English regions), at 37,000, exceeding only the North East, East Midlands, and West Midlands. Comparing the effects of internal and international migration at a subregional level shows a more varied picture, as displayed in Figure 1.4.

Figure 1.4 indicates a broad urban/rural split, with international migration being generally far lower in rural areas. Net growth in Bristol and Plymouth, for example, was entirely as a result of international migration; by contrast growth in Somerset and Dorset was entirely owing to internal (national) migration.

It is important to note that, for all areas, the overall numbers of national migrants are much larger than those of international, when viewed as a proportion of the population as a whole. Taking Bristol as an example, in 2009/10, 25,410 people moved into the city from other areas of the UK, and 25,480 moved out of Bristol to other areas of the UK. This accounts for around 6% of the total population of Bristol moving either in or out of the city to other parts of the UK. In contrast, 8,850 people (2% of the total population) moved into Bristol from outside the UK and 3,680 people (0.8% of the total population) moved out of Bristol to go abroad.

Figure 1.2: Components of Change by Region, 2009-2010

[ Zoom ]
Source: ONS mid-year population estimates, components of change

Figure 1.3: Net National Migration by Region, 2009-2010

[ Zoom ]
Net Migration by Region, 2009-10
Source: ONS Migration Statistics Unit

Figure 1.4: Net International, National and Overall Migration effects by Upper Tier Authority in the South West, 2009/10

[ Zoom ]
International, National and Net Migration Effects by Upper Tier Authority in the South West, 2009/10
Source: ONS Mid-year population estimates analysis tool, 2010.

Births and Fertility

Natural change has been gradually increasing in the region since 2005/06; in contrast records for more than ten years prior to 2005/06 show that for every year deaths had exceeded births.

Migration has contributed to the increase in annual UK births
since 2002 due to the increasing population of non-UK born women, who have (on average) higher fertility than UK born women (as measured by Total Fertility Rate).

The South West had the second lowest percentage of births to non-UK born mothers in 2010, when compared with all 9 English regions, at 14.4% of all births. In London, the percentage was 56.3%. However, when you look at the data subregionally, substantial variation can be seen; in Bournemouth the proportion is 27.7%; in Bristol the proportion is 26.8%, and in Swindon it is 21.5%.

Migration is one of several factors pushing up births over the past decade. Another key reason is the high fertility of women over 30; some women born in the 1960s and 1970s delayed their childbearing and are now ‘catching up’ at older ages. It is possible that changes in support for families (such as increasing the length of maternity leave) may have contributed by creating a climate more conducive to childbearing.

Further discussion on changes in fertility within the UK is available via ONS.

In 2010, the South West had the fourth lowest TFR of all the English regions, at 1.99, but also showed one of the highest rates of fertility of women aged 30+; in both the 30-34, and the 35-39 years age brackets, the South West has the second highest rate of fertility, when compared with all other English regions.

It is likely that these factors combined have had an impact on the South West, accounting in part for the increase in natural change over recent years.


Household projections are available from Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), based on the 2008-based population projections. According to these projections, the number of households in the South West is projected to increase by 30% between 2008 and 2033. This is the third largest percentage increase of all the regions after East (+34%) and Yorkshire and the Humber (+31%). The majority of projected household growth in the South West is for one person households, which are expected to increase by 58% between 2008 and 2033.

Unsurprisingly, the number of households headed by someone aged 65 or over is projected to increase from 664,000 in 2008 to 1,104,000 in 2033; a 67% increase. By 2033, 38% of households in the region are projected to be headed by those aged 65 or over.

According to these projections, together with the South East and North East, the South West has the oldest distribution of household representatives in 2033.

Data and Monitoring

Migration is one of the most difficult areas of demography to monitor. Annual numbers of migrants generally vary more than birth and death rates (with economic conditions - especially job loss or creation, house prices and house building) and there is no register of migration as reliable as those for births and deaths.

In May 2010, a package of improvements for mid-year population estimates for England and Wales was introduced as part of a cross government programme to improve migration statistics, indicating the prioritisation of this data in a time of restricted resources across government.
Full details of the package of improvements are available here.

Whilst mid-year estimates have been calculated for up to and including 2009, the most robust source of population data broken down by ethnicity group remains the 2001 Census. The release of the 2011 Census results from September 2012 will be key in providing a more up to date and reliable resource.

Pensions and the elderly population

One of the most widely reported areas of policy under the Coalition government is that around pensions, including the plan to bring forward the increase in state pension age
to 66.

The Pensions Bill 2011 received Royal Assent on 3 November 2011. The Act puts into law changes to the State Pension age timetable. From April 2016, women’s State Pension age will rise faster than originally planned, equalising with men’s at 65 by November 2018. Between December 2018 and October 2020, men and women’s State Pension ages will be increased from 65 to 66 (more information via DWP).

As the pension age rises, a key challenge for the region will be the provision and availability of employment to support an ageing workforce.

In 2011, substantial changes to public sector pensions were proposed, which led to negotiations between Government and the Unions, alongside national employer strikes.
The Coalition Government stated that “the rising cost of paying for the pensions of the UK’s public sector employees is a big problem that must be dealt with”
(BBC News, June 2011).

At the time of writing, negotiations are still ongoing. The impact of altered, or reduced, pension schemes is likely to be felt especially in the South West; given both the reliance on public sector employment (see also, Labour Market), and our population structure. Plans to auto-enrol workers into pension schemes will be in place by October 2018 (three years earlier than originally planned).

Within the Coalition’s Programme for Government, a statement of commitment to provision for the elderly has been retained; including plans to “protect key benefits for older people such as the winter fuel allowance, free TV licences, free bus travel, and free eye tests and prescriptions.” (see also).


The Coalition Government’s plans to introduce an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants admitted into the UK to live and work are outlined within the 2010 document, ‘The Coalition: Our Programme for Government’

It is too early to say how immigration policy will pan out for the South West. As established, the region has one of the lowest levels of long-term migration to the UK.

Statistics showing the urban/rural split in international migration indicate a varied population structure however, and as such any changes to immigration policy will impact differently across the region.


The choice to move to an area depends, for most, on availability of housing, employment and resources, alongside environmental factors. Given the popularity of the South West for inwards migration, future changes to the region’s population will be closely tied to housing and economic policy, as well as sustainable job creation.

Changes to subnational governance arrangements, alongside reduced regional-level data, will mean that we (the Observatory) are likely to explore more localised demographic patterns in the future.

We already know, for example, that areas like Cornwall, Devon and Dorset have historically been amongst the most popular parts of the region for inwards migration; how will they fare in the future? The work of our Local Intelligence Networks will be key to understanding trends further.

Finally, ONS is currently working on its ‘Beyond 2011’ Programme; aimed at establishing alternative data resources to the Census, as its future is now under review. Demographic data remains one of, if not the, most important data sources for local authorities; the outcomes of the programme will prove essential for future monitoring and detailed local profiling.


Please feel free to use the charts / maps in your own presentations and reports (you can download the ones from this page below) but remember to reference the South West Observatory and to include a hyperlink to our site.