Understanding recent population trends in London
Today we have published a new report that provides readers with an overview of the available evidence about population change in London since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ever since the first lockdown, there has a great deal of interest and uncertainty about how London’s population has been changing. This uncertainty arises because of the clear potential of the pandemic to impact existing population trends and because it has disrupted the collection of data used to measure and monitor population change.
Interest and uncertainty together naturally result in speculation, and the media has been eager to seize on any research that has purported to fill the gaps left by official statistics. Just as naturally, the more dramatic the claims made by authors, the more likely they are to make the headlines.
Anyone hoping for concrete answers and definitive estimates should temper their expectations. The fact is that, even after reviewing a wide range of evidence, a large degree of uncertainty remains about the scale and nature of changes that have occurred over the last year.
As well as discussing the potential impacts of the pandemic and the extent to which these are supported by the available evidence, this report attempts to explain the reasons that there is so much uncertainty about population trends in London at this time. Indeed, one of the key purposes of this report is to provide readers with appropriate context and background to allow them to properly interpret the new claims and evidence that will doubtless continue to emerge over the coming months.
Another purpose of this document is, by bringing together and providing an overview of relevant data sources, to act as a resource for others working to understand the impacts of the pandemic. To this end, we welcome feedback and suggestions from the community about how we can develop this work and make it more a more useful resource going forward.
Lastly, publishing this report is a way to share insights into those aspects of recent population change about which we do have a reasonable degree of confidence, such as: the true toll of COVID deaths in London (once the undercount early in the pandemic is accounted for), or the continued decline in births revealed by analysis of GP registration data.
Uncertainty about the population is here to stay for a while yet. Official estimates to be released by ONS next month will only capture the first three months of the pandemic. The first results from the 2021 Census are not due until next year and, because of the unique set of conditions that existed when the Census was held, are likely to leave some key questions unanswered.
We will continue to build on the work carried out to date, adding new data and analysis over time. The insights we gain from this process help shape our understanding of the situation and feed into our demographic projection work. Later this summer we’ll be issuing new population estimates and projections, reflecting the latest evidence, to help inform the work of London’s planners and policymakers.