ONS 2020-based Subnational Population Estimates

Briefing paper


The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published mid-year population estimates for 2020. This note summarises the main points arising from the data for England, beginning with a look at population change over the 12-month period 2019-20, before going on to look at longer-term trends between 2010 and 2020.

Population change from 2019-20

The population of England in 2020 was around 56.6 million, translating to an increase of 263,100 (0.5%) when compared with the 2019 estimate of just under 56.3 million. Around 41.9% of this rise was accounted for by the growing number of people aged 65+ (110,300). Those aged 0-15 accounted for 13.5% of the rise, increasing by 35,500. The number of people aged 16-64, a traditional proxy for the working age population, increased by around 117,300 from 2019-20 and accounted for 44.6% of the total population increase over the year.

At a regional level, London’s population increased the most in absolute terms between 2019 and 2020, rising by 40,500 to just over 9 million. In relative terms the East Midlands and the South West saw the highest increases in population – both at 0.6% – and equating to 29,700 and 34,400 more people respectively from 2019-20. All regions experienced growth over the 12-month timeframe, with the North East seeing the smallest population rise in absolute terms of 10,900 people (0.4%).

Looking at the population estimates by age shows that parts of the South West region saw some of the largest absolute increases in people aged 65 and over between 2019 and 2020. For example, Cornwall experienced the highest increase of all England’s local authorities with an additional 2,400 people in this cohort (a rise of 1.7%). This was followed by Wiltshire with 1,900 (1.8%) additional people aged over 65 and then Dorset (1,700 people – 1.6%). By contrast, the London Borough of Havering saw a decrease of just under 200 (0.4%) people aged 65+; Salford saw this age cohort decrease by around 100 people over the year (0.3%) and in the City of Bristol, the 65+ cohort decreased by just over 70 (0.1%).

Population change over the last decade

National Change

Over the last decade the population of England has risen by just over 3.9 million, equating to an increase of 0.7% per annum. The main driver of change has been the increase in people aged 65+, with this cohort accounting for just over 1.9 million of the overall growth in total population between 2010 and 2020. Those aged 16-64 accounted for around 1.1million of the increase, with people aged 0-15 accounting for the remaining 900,000. On an annual basis, the number of people aged 65+ increased by 2% from 2010-20, well above the increases of 0.3% p.a. and 0.9% p.a. for those aged 16-64 and 0-15 respectively.

Regional Change

In absolute and relative terms, London experienced the largest population increase of any region from 2010-20, with the number of people growing by 941,000 (1.1% p.a.). This growth was driven predominantly by substantial increases in the number of people aged 0-15 (growth of 247,400, or 1.4% p.a.) and 16-64 (492,300, or 0.9% p.a.). The annual percentage rise in the number of people aged 16-64 over the last decade in London was around three times higher than virtually all the other regions in England.

All regions saw an increase in their populations between 2010 and 2020, although as Figure 1 shows, the level of change varies significantly.

Figure 1: Regional Population Change, 2010-20

Figure 1 Regional Population Change, 2010-20

Source: ONS Mid-Year Population Estimates

Local Authority Change

At a local authority level, the main points to note in terms of population change between 2010 and 2020 are as follows:

  • Of the 309 local authorities in England, the five fastest growing areas in relative terms are all London boroughs. The total population of the borough of the City of London has grown the fastest year-on-year at 4.1% over the decade. In 2020 there were just over 3,600 more residents than in 2010.
  • There were six authorities which saw their total populations decline between 2010 and 2020, these being Barrow-in-Furness and Copeland (both of which saw an annual decline of 0.4% over the ten years), Blackpool (with a 0.3% annual decrease), Kensington and Chelsea (with a 0.2% annual decrease), Scarborough (0.03% annual decrease) and the Isles of Scilly (with a 0.01% annual decrease between 2010 and 2020).
  • 35 local authorities experienced a decrease in the number of people aged 0-15 between 2010 and 2020. This includes the Derbyshire Dales (with a decrease of over 1,300 people in this age cohort or a loss of 1.1% per annum), the Isles of Scilly (23 – 0.7% per annum), Eden (580 – 0.7% per annum) and Barrow-in-Furness (1,100 – 0.7% per annum).
  • In the 16-64 age band, Tower Hamlets saw the largest absolute population increase between 2010 and 2020 at just over 60,000 additional people – equating to growth of 2.9% per annum. In absolute terms, Tower Hamlets was followed by Birmingham with 53,300 additional people aged 16-64, representing growth of 0.8% p.a. Between 2010 and 2020, more than one third of local authorities in England saw a decrease in the number of people aged 16-64, with the largest absolute decreases seen in Kensington and Chelsea (just over 11,315 fewer people – an annual decrease of 1%), East Riding of Yorkshire (10,700 people – 0.5% p.a.) and Ealing with a decrease of 10,400 16-64 year olds over the decade (0.5% p.a.).
  • Every local authority in England saw growth in its population aged 65+ from 2010-20. The City of London had the highest relative growth at 5.2% per annum (an additional 700 people over the ten years) and Cornwall had the highest absolute increase in people aged 65+, seeing an additional 31,400 more people in the cohort over the decade (growth of 2.5% p.a.).

The Map shows the percentage annual population growth for each local authority in England between 2010 and 2020.

Please click on the individual local authorities on the map for further information.

Implications of the data

In line with trends identified from previous ONS population data releases over the last few years, the increase in the number of people aged 65+ over the last decade has been significant. Furthermore, ONS projections indicate that elderly people will account for an increasing share of total population in the future. This will have a number of implications, including putting pressure on the social care system and the type of housing required in areas. The role played by assisted living and extra scheme schemes in meeting future housing need is likely to become prominent in this respect, however it is also important to remember that areas must continue to deliver housing stock that is attractive to people of all ages – including those of working age.

London and the South East have been the main drivers of population growth in England over the last decade. Other parts of the country will need to see higher levels of growth if the government’s aim of rebalancing the economy is to be achieved, a point which arguably takes on even more importance in light of the covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy.

Should you wish to discuss the population data for an area in more detail, please contact a member of the Economics Team.