Population decline needs to be debated

ANYONE who feared Employment and Social Security president Peter Roffey was over-egging the island’s population issue by describing it as the elephant in the room has only to look at the States’ own forecasts to see it was not.

Between now and 2080, the number of people here is expected to fall by more than 10,500 to a low of just 52,542 – a figure not seen since 1986.

While this represents a 40-year horizon, how the States reacts to the forecasts and the island’s falling birth rate will arguably be more important than how it builds back after Covid.

Depopulation and jobs are among the biggest risks facing small islands globally, not least because they materially affect a community’s ability to provide public services and retain younger islanders.

Many of Guernsey’s brightest students leave for university and it is well paid employment and the prospect of buying a home that attracts their skills and experience back – or not if neither are available.

Similarly, the growing number of older islanders, while good news, puts more pressure on those in work to provide the care and medical treatment inevitably required in later life. Yet over the same period, the numbers in work are projected to fall by nearly 7,500 to just 23,526.

These are alarming prospects and reinforce the need for a well-informed and wide-ranging debate on population and what sort of future Guernsey wants for itself.

The other statistic that stands out in government’s own projections is that it is the strength of the economy – not population management legislation – that dictates how many people come here.

Without net migration, the situation would be very much worse and, today, there is evidence the island has a record number of unfilled job vacancies, which is economically damaging.

However, a minor improvement in fertility rates plus net migration of 200-300 a year would reverse the declines and maintain the workforce at its current level.

In short, Guernsey has choices. Population is one issue that cannot be resolved by ignoring it.

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