London’s population is about to reach a record high of over 8.615 million. Resident number 8.615.001 will compete with us for an appointment at our local surgery, a place in a good school, a seat on the Tube and a property on an already pressured market. With a growth rate of around 100,000 new Londoners per year, the media and policy makers alike are right to point out the pressure on the NHS, schools, the housing market and the transport system. Pointing out these issues is justified, a debate is needed. After all, it affects all of us in one way or another.
Yet, the debate about an increase in population due to an increasing birth rate and immigration often misses one point: resident number 8.615.001 is seen as someone making demands, not as someone offering a contribution.
Just like many other cities around the world, London is growing. Cities offer jobs, entertainment and opportunities of all kinds for people to flourish. In short: cities can be exciting places to be. This is not to say that cities can’t be at the heart of challenges as well. Many large cities – and London is no exception – suffer from social inequality, overcrowding and environmental pollution. However, cities are also the birthplace of great ideas to tackle problems and to advance society. Moreover, cities have the potential to put a country firmly on the world map. The UK’s role in the world is also a result of London’s status as one of the true global cities. But cities are not cities without their residents. It’s Londoners that make London!
Residents should not only be seen as individuals making demands, but also as contributors of ideas, labour force and wealth. Every additional resident demands a job, but simultaneously increases the demand for goods and services and offers their skills and talents to society. To the delight of the Treasury, an increase in population is also likely to lead to an increases in tax income and NI contribution – money that can be used to address above mentioned challenges. It is safe to assume that a declining population would ring even bigger alarm bells (see Japan and Germany) than an increase in the number of residents.
The next baby born in London or the next immigrant leaving the plane at Heathrow might be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. He or she might found a company and create thousands of working places, become an employee with exactly the skills a London company is looking for, wins a gold medal for Team GB or becomes a Oscar winning artist. With global competition in mind, we should welcome talented people for London to be competitive. That is not to say that bigger is better. Not every big city is successful, but every globally successful city is big. London’s status as global city cannot be taken for granted and especially when we look towards Asia there are many cities who might challenge London’s status in future. Today, London is the first choice for many who look for an exciting career and city life. In future, London might only be one out of many possible options. If we don’t welcome talent and skills, another city might do and this is the point where we risk our status as one of the leading cities.
It is correct that every additional London residents puts pressure on the system. But every additional Londoner is also a contribution to the resources needed to make London the great city it is.
Thomas is Project Management and Communications Officer for RSA Public Services and Communities.
You can follow Thomas @ThHauschildt