Monday, 7 October 2013

Jersey Population Projections: A Critical Review

"The most dangerous assumptions are that human well-being depends on a growing economy and that a healthy economy requires a steady increase in population.  These assumptions arose in seventeenth-century Europe, which viewed the world as a storehouse of limitless raw materials and the corporation was developed to exploit them.  The idea at the core of this outlook is that human numbers and the economy can grow perpetually on a finite planet." (Anthony Cassils)
 
"A whole culture has evolved around the principle of fighting against limits rather than learning to live with them." (John V Taylor)
 
I've been looking at the various population projections in  the report "Jersey Population Projections: 2013 release", which can be seen here: http://goo.gl/u7gT4L
 
Various scenarios are given, and both future population and dependency of older on younger is looked at. What has not been considered is the effect on infrastructure, which is also significant. For instance, the current population means we have 120 days of water in a drought situation, and as the population grows, that will reduce. Water is a diminishing asset. The amount of power available with the French link, as opposed to expensive home-grown supply, is limited. The amount of food stored by supermarkets on-Island has been massively reduced over the last decade. The number of cars on the roads is increasing.
 
None of these are factored into the population projections which are wholly centred on the dependency ratios, the number of people under pension age supporting those of pensionable age. That is a very narrow focus for statistics and their interpretation.
 
But let's look at the scenarios, starting with "Total population size, 2010 to 2080 under 'net nil migration'  The report notes that:
 
"Despite overall net nil migration, the inward and outward flows provide a mild 'boost' to the numbers of those of working age with a consequent slight increase in the number of children being born. The population increases slightly to a maximum of 101,800 around 2030 before beginning to decline slowly, falling back to 94,000 by 2065.
 
"Whilst the dependency ratio increases due to the ageing population, the rate of increase is slowed down (relative to 'no inward or outward migration') by the ebb and flow of people slowing the reduction in the working  age population"
 
The other scenarios look at various increases. For instance, on "200 per year" - an absolute number of 200 people are assumed to arrive each year over and above the number of persons that leave from 2013 onwards.
 
But this also makes a crucial assumption:
 
"Inward migrants are assumed to be distributed across the age, gender and residential qualification categories according to the distribution seen in recent arrivals in the census data. "
 
This produces  estimates of 107,200 by 2035 and 108,500 by 2065. 
 
No consideration is given to the changing working patterns, the different kinds of businesses in Jersey, including Finance and Tourism, and how changes on those impact on the kind of immigrant population. For example, a decline in tourism may well lead to less younger single people coming to work in Jersey, and then look to settle here simply because the opportunities no longer exist on the same scale as previous decades. Changes in economics in EU countries, and the expansion of the EU itself may lead to more people coming here. House prices and house rentals may also impact on who wants to come and work in Jersey.
 
What I would like to see is previous census data revisited - say for instance 2001 - and the projection made on  those and checked against what actually happened. There are some obvious weaknesses in the assumption here, for instance the immigration patterns are based on one census, but these kinds of weaknesses can be best seen by checking the proposed increases against historic data.
 
The situation gets even gloomier with 350 per year, which causes a steady rise in the total population size, to 111,300 in 2035 and 119,400 in 2065, and 500 per year, which gives us a total population size of 115,500 in 2035 and 130,400 in 2065.
 
Of course, as the report notes, "Net inward migration of +500 persons per year has a more limiting effect on the increasing dependency ratio than the previous scenarios described in this report (a consequence of the ageing population being offset by higher inward migration of younger working age persons). The ratio increases to 66% in 2035, after which its rate of increase flattens out, such that it reaches 71% in 2065."
 
But that conclusion is biased in what it leaves out - the impact on the Island's infrastructure, and the increased costs to the Island. To give an example of how matters impact, income from St Brelade's rates  have increased because of more housing estates in the Parish, but on the down side, expenses for rubbish collection have also increased because that also is correlated to the number of houses. To just look at dependency ratio is to leave out half the picture.  By leaving out increased costs of infrastructure, and just focusing on dependency ratio, the problems of reduced public and private sector services and amenities, the higher costs of those resulting from increased population is overlooked.
 
Meanwhile, if the number of births increases at the low rate assumed by the prediction, it may well leave matters worse in the long term.
 
The immigrants themselves will get old, so the effect of increased immigration will be another bulge coming through the system, only solvable by further increases, until a levelling off is reached which would be way above the present population. It is like the half-life of drugs. If you take a particular medicine - for example, a thyroid drug -  the half life is the period of time it will take until only half of the drug is left in your system. Of course, by then you will have taken at least one more dose, so you now have half the original concentration, plus the extra taken, and its half life in turn, so that the maximum in your system will be far greater than the single dose. Increased immigration to deal with demographic problems works very much like that.
 
But is the birth rate as low as seems to be predicted by these statistics? There is a baby boom at the moment which seems to be missing from the charts and statistics here. Their table on population projections is a remarkable example of numerical imagination, which seems to bear no evidence to what is going on.
 
Deputy Richard Rondel asked Senator Ian le Marquand a question  in the States about this recently,
regarding the total births in Jersey in 2012 against deaths:
 
"The answer to the question is that there has been an increase in recent years in the number of births. We do not have a final figure yet for the year because there is a delay in the registration process for outlying Parishes sometimes but it will not be significant. The figure was 1,160. Numbers have been increasing in recent years but curiously enough, they are now back to just fractionally above the level in the mid-1990s. I can give you some figures: 1994, 1,147 was the peak. Then they dropped away to levels in the mid-900s for a number of years and then have come up. So, yes, in recent years, we have started to increase although it has only just taken us back to the 1990s level. The figure for deaths so far, because there may well be more coming from outlying Parishes, is 752 so we have approximately 400 more births than deaths."
"
Deputy Rondel went on with a further question:
 
"I thank the Minister for that answer. My concern really is as Governor of Rouge Bouillon School, the implications . because I know 2 years ago one was considering doing away with the primary school in St. Helier and now the reverse is potentially being spoken about so would the Minister agree that discussions with the Council of Ministers should take place as quickly as possible. If they do see a trend, the implications for schools are important. "
 
Senator B.I. Le Marquand:
 
"That is the right area but of course I do know of conversations in the Council of Ministers already with the Minister for Education, Sport and Culture who was very concerned to be seeing a substantial increase above what was expected in his talking about the possible need for a new primary school."
 
But he went on to say that "this is not, I think, just related to the numbers of births having gone up. It is also related to the number of children as dependants of other people who have been coming into the Island in recent years."
 
Now the population projections on younger age ranges don't seem to show this increase in dependants or birth rate impacting on schools; they don't seem to be describing the real world at a point where the charts and figures are testable in practice.
 
But whether or not Jersey fertility rates are as low as the projection, this illustrates the impact on infrastructure, and increased States spending. Increased population, whether by birth or immigration will mean new primary schools, expansions of secondary schools, and increased costs to the States. The economic projects for this are not built into the population projections.

What the report does not show is the degree to which high rates of immigration would impact on our remaining open spaces, green field sites, farmland, and ecosystems and also how it would place an unacceptable burden on our infrastructure. Indeed, infrastructure is very much the missing element, with no costing implications whatsoever. It is a major flaw of the projections that they focus purely on dependency ratios, and give no consideration to infrastructure - water, sewage, electricity, gas etc, to say nothing about congested roads, crowded buses and expensive housing.
 
Biologist Garrett Hardin points out the short sightedness of such blinkered vision:
 
"Exponential growth needs to be seen as a severely time-limited process, for which costs must be paid. Growth is ultimately limited by the environment, a truth that ecologists encapsulate in the concept of 'carrying capacity'."
 
And there is also another flawed assumption - that the younger population of working age will be working, and not dependent on the State. Dependency ratio assumes a certain income from the population of working age, but the recent trends have been for increased unemployment, and for greater dependency on States funding for those out of work.
 
I can't see any mention or provision of that in this report, but without it, how are we to know that increased immigration may impact negatively upon the job market? What I am not doing here - before any such claim is made - is to bang the "immigrants taking local jobs" drum. What I am doing is simply pointing out that the limited number of jobs, and continual effects of recessionary forces mean that the assumption that a working age population means a working population is flawed. Given that flaw, increases in net immigration may well exacerbate the problem; indeed it may be those children mentioned as dependants of recent immigration themselves who may also suffer.
 
In conclusion, I would urge that more critical scrutiny is given to "Jersey Population Projections: 2013" and the projections are not treated as "facts", but as projections based upon assumptions which may well be flawed, and which also overlook other significant and costly consequences apart from the narrow focus on dependency ratios. Growing populations create infrastructure, urban congestion and housing affordability problems. We ignore those at our peril.

2 comments:

James said...

There's a far bigger question than any here just over the horizon.

Last week the Scotsman reported the death of an 88 year-old man, Norman Gillies. He was one of the last surviving people who had lived on the Hebridean island of St Kilda: the island was famously evacuated in 1930 when the remaining residents said that there was no way of making a viable living there.

The problem we are seeing now is that pressure from globalised neo-liberalism (which basically says that the measure of a successful business is how much you can cut costs) means that the threshold of viability is no longer 50 or 100 as was the case at St Kilda, and the more remote the location, the higher the threshold is. The rising price of oil (which governs the cost of imports) is only going to exacerbate that. There is already genuine and well-founded concern that a community the size of Alderney isn't sustainable.

The situation in Jersey is more complex: a population of 100,000+ is not sustainable if the price of food and goods rises, but if the population drops to, say, 70,000, the cost of building and maintaining, say, a new hospital becomes prohibitive.

The proposed £400m spend on the new hospital is already disproportionate. Hospitals built to serve communities of 600-700,000 in mainland Europe come in at about two-thirds of this. This is (for once) not the fault of the States; it's partly because the builders don't have to ship everything in on the Goodwill, and partly because they are more easily able to access regional specialist hospitals. But blame isn't the issue: the issue is that if we are honest we cannot afford to sustain a good-quality hospital at a population of 100,000. If the population falls significantly, even more so.

There are going to have to be some unpalatable choices...

Mark Forskitt said...

Thanks for posting that Tony. I have yet to analyse the figures for myself I expect I am in accord with much of what you have written. Good points by James too.

Hopefully I will get round to population after I've done something on the recent IPCC report and a couple of green zone issues in the home parish.

It feels like a full frontal assault by the business growth lobby on all fronts!