Britain’s birth rate falls to record low as campaigners say ‘reproduction is a luxury’

Britain’s birth rate falls to record low as campaigners say ‘reproduction is a luxury’

Campaigners have warned that ‘reproduction has become a luxury’ after it emerged that the fertility rate in England and Wales had fallen to its lowest level since records began in 1939.

Officially figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that ‘total fertility’, calculated based on the birth rate in different age groups, fell to 1.49 children per woman in 2022.


That is well below the 2.1 figure needed to maintain a stable population without significant immigration. In total, there were 605,479 live births in 2022, a fall of 3.1% from a year earlier and the lowest number since 2002, according to the ONS.

Falling birth rates since 2010 have already led to the closure of schools in many areas in recent years, including central London.

Dr. Mary-Ann Stephenson of the Women’s Budget Group, which campaigns for more support for families, said: ‘We need the babies born now because they will be the people whose taxes pay for our healthcare. These will be the people who take care of us in our old age. These will be the doctors, nurses and healthcare providers of the future.â€

Stephenson said tackling the problem is not about convincing people to become parents, but about “making sure we have systems in place to support those people who want children to have children.” She pointed to unaffordable housing as a crucial factor.

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Campaigners also warned that skyrocketing childcare costs are likely to have contributed to some women’s decision not to have children – or to have fewer children than they would have liked.

Joeli Brearley, CEO of Pregnant Then Screwed: ‘It is no surprise to us that fertility rates have bottomed out. Reproduction has become a luxury item in Britain. Childcare costs are unbearable, and that’s if you can get a spot.

“Our research found that almost half of parents are in debt or have had to dip into savings just to pay their childcare bill,” she added.

Phoebe Arslanagić-Little, head of the New Deal for Parents at conservative think tank Onward, said: ‘We are essentially pricing people out of parenthood, with a panoply of material problems: the housing crisis, the cost of childcare, the poor availability of IVF on the NHS.â€

She called for more support for parents in the tax and benefit systems, adding: “We are not doing a good enough job of reflecting the real contribution that parents make.”

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The broader economic environment is also known to be a factor. Research published by the Bank of England in 2020 suggested that the sharp fall in interest rates at the time of the global financial crisis could have led to as many as 15,000 extra babies being born the following year as households received a financial windfall.

The ONS data also showed that women tend to have children later: the fertility rate was highest among women in the 30-34 age group, while before 2002 it was higher in the 25-29 age group.

Fertility rates have also fallen in much of Europe in recent years, with women having fewer children, and having them later in life.

Politicians in Britain are often reluctant to encourage people to have more children for fear of meddling in voters’ private lives.

But some conservatives have recently sounded the alarm. Miriam Cates, a backstabber MP, warned last year that falling birth rates are “the single overarching threat to British conservatism and to all of Western society”.