Population policy is one of the major policy issues in Jersey and has been for many years. It needs to reflect the wishes of the people of Jersey to restrict the growth of the population. However, the issue is also difficult, with no simple answers. Like most other political issues there are important trade-offs on which political decisions are required. It is also the case that the policy instruments to control the population are limited, and that some of the expectations about what policy can achieve are unrealistic.
In a free and open economy no government is able to determine the size of its resident population, but rather can seek only to influence that size. Changes in the population of Jersey depend on five factors –
The government has no control over the first four factors. It might be possible to limit residentially qualified people returning to the Island, for example by substantially increasing the time that people have to spend in Jersey in order to have entitled status. However, this would be very difficult in practice and would create real problems, for example, refusing to allow people born and educated in Jersey to return to Jersey be close to their parents or refusing to allow children who had come to Jersey at the age of 10 who then left to go to university to return to the Island.
The rate of growth of Jersey’s population has fluctuated considerably over the years. In the 30 years between 1821 and 1851 the population more than doubled. However, the population in 1951 at 57,000 was almost exactly the same as it had been 100 years earlier in 1851. Since 1951 the population has grown steadily, the latest estimate being 107,800 at the end of 2019. The results of the 2021 census will be published later in 2022 and although they will give an accurate snapshot of the population at that time, they will not give a good indication of recent trends because the basis of calculation is different from the annual figures and also because the census was conducted in the middle of lockdown.
One factor which affects Jersey and most industrialised countries is the impact of an ageing population. The key variable is the dependency ratio, that is the ratio of people who are not of working age to those who are. In 2015 that ratio in Jersey was 50%, that is for every one person not of working age there were two of working age. The following table shows the official projections for the population and the dependency ratio on two assumptions, net nil migration and net migration at 1,000 a year, roughly the figure over the last few years.
|Year||Net nil migration||Net migration of 1,000 a year|
|Population||Dependency ratio||Population||Dependency ratio|
Source: Jersey population projections 2016 release.
The table shows that with net nil migration, the population would begin to fall after 2035 but by that year the dependency ratio would have increased from 50% to 71%, Put another way, instead of there being two people of working age to one not of working age, that ratio would fall to 1.4.
Even with net migration of 1,000 a year, which would mean a significant increase in the population, the dependency ratio will rise significantly because of the effects of the ageing population.
The implications of this need to be fully understood.
In an ideal world the people of Jersey would probably like there to be a stable population with the maintenance of the current level of public services and of living standards. However, this is not achievable given the ageing population. An ageing population means an increase in public expenditure, particularly on health and long-term care. However, other things being equal it also means at best that tax revenue will not increase in line with public expenditure and quite possibly an absolute reduction in tax revenue. In turn, this means a combination of reducing public services or increasing tax revenue. These effects can be mitigated to some extent through migration by people who will join the workforce and through increasing the productivity of the existing workforce.
It is sometimes argued that Jersey does not have a population policy – because there is no target figure. For the reasons set out in earlier in this paper setting a rigid target is not possible. However, the Government can use various policy instruments and population projections to seek to achieve a population level in a reasonably narrow range. However, that “reasonably narrow range” requires a proper debate about the trade-offs between net migration and living standards generally.
A prerequisite for implementing such a policy is a significant improvement in the quantity and quality of data. At present the data is nowhere near adequate to enable a definitive policy to be formulated, nor to ensure that any policy is capable of being successfully implemented. Arrangements are in hand to improve the adequacy of the data and together with the 2021 census data it should be possible to make better estimates of the implications of specific policy measures. The policy objective is progressively to reduce reliance of net inward migration, which can be achieved only if progress is made in two areas –
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