The 2021 population census out this week found that, as a nation, we are both having fewer kids and are starting to see shorter life expectancy.
Average male life expectancy in thirty years could be 82.2 years, down from 84.1 years on 2014 projections. While female life expectancy could fall too, to 85.3 from 86.9 years.
Similarly, the data showed the UK birth rate is also dropping. Couples are predicted to be having 1.56 births for every woman, down from a 1.89 estimate in 2014.
Fewer school-age children means fewer schools will be needed, the FT’s Chris Giles pointed out. We’d still need to find an extra £35 billion a year in tax, but the new census population predictions mean this sum is far less than expected.
A dropping birth rate and life expectancy obviously have implications far beyond the budget deficit, however.
The data raises important questions. For example, has 12 years of austerity pushed down life expectancy?
Research from the IPPR in 2019 estimated that austerity has led to 130,000 preventable deaths in the UK since 2012.
And is the falling birth rate a sign that younger people are putting off having children due to precarity and money problems? Research in 2021 suggested this might be the case.
Tax is about political choices. The new ONS figures might give us a glimpse of the effect of those choices.
If we want to live in a country where life chances for everyone improve over time, we need a tax system that reverses burgeoning wealth inequality – and funds the best possible public services.