Strengthening evidence for policy with better population data

Queens Street in Cardiff busy with shoppers

More accurate UK population estimates are helping policymakers, planners and businesses make more informed and better decisions on policy, products and services.

The Centre for Population Change (CPC), launched by ESRC in 2009, is the UK’s first research centre to focus on understanding what drives population or demographic changes and the implications for society. It has collaborated with the Office for National Statistics to improve the accuracy of current and future population estimates for the UK.

Their work over the last decade has developed better measures of the three drivers of population change – fertility, mortality and migration – improving the evidence base for UK national and local policy on issues which affect us all.

“Understanding our population – how many people there are, their ages, where they live, who they live with and how they are likely to behave – is critical to government and to business,” explains the CPC director, Professor Jane Falkingham.

Video credit: ESRC.
On-screen captions and an autogenerated transcript are available on YouTube.

About the project

Over the last decade more than 50 CPC researchers and PhD students from around the world have helped improve how we measure the drivers of demographic change. This has resulted in more accurate population projections and statistics to support policy, planning and business decisions.

Their research also explores what demographic change means for society and people living in it. For example, CPC research looks at impacts of policy on some of the country’s most vulnerable groups. Their work forecasts that the number of unpaid carers in the UK will rise from 7 million to over 10 million by 2050.

Professor Falkingham notes the importance of making this data visible to businesses and policymakers: “Highlighting the growing importance of unpaid carers and their role in supporting older people to remain living independently in the community helps draw attention to the need for appropriate employer and policymaker responses,” she says.

From its outset CPC worked closely with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to ensure it addressed the most relevant policy topics. The strong relationship between CPC and ONS has been built through open exchange, shared goals and mutual trust in the quality and accuracy of both organisations’ work. This has enabled both organisations to effectively collaborate on research around issues of policy concern.

Impacts of the project

CPC’s innovative statistical modelling techniques and new methodologies have corrected inaccuracies and dealt with other shortcomings in existing data that can hamper decision-making. CPC’s improvements to methodology for population projections are used in all aspects of policy planning, and have led to positive impacts in a wide range of areas.

The centre has also contributed to discussions relating to population at more than 90 events with civil servants and policymakers in government and local authorities.

Education and childcare

Improved fertility estimation has provided local authorities with better means to predict demand for and delivery of key services such as nursery and early years learning, schools and maternity services. Local authorities can more accurately forecast how many school places are needed and budget for required resources.

Pensions and insurance

New methodology for estimating life expectancy at older ages has informed the way pension, life and health insurance products are priced. It has also helped people better plan their pension and care needs.

Student migration

Work visas for international students who have completed their studies were reintroduced following a CPC, ONS and Universities UK collaboration that helped revise inaccurate figures on international student’s migration out of the country. Research showed that 95% of foreign students who intended to leave the country after graduation had left the UK six months later.


CPC is developing more effective estimates of excess mortality due to COVID-19, taking account of changing population structures and long-term trends in mortality. More accurate estimation is crucial in determining the effect of the present pandemic and its differing impacts within the population. CPC is working closely with ONS to ensure their improved methods are applied.

As a result of their close collaboration, recent research has focused quickly on the complex problems posed by COVID-19, offering timely evidence on a wide range of issues, from COVID-19’s impact on existing socio-economic inequalities to the benefits of lockdown for parent-child relationships.

Professor Sir Ian Diamond, the UK’s National Statistician says: “I have no doubt that the work of CPC has had an impact on policymaking in the UK. It has improved the measurement of fertility, mortality and migration, enhanced statistical methods and accuracy, and it continues to provide vital socio-economic evidence that will help our society to progress.”

Find out more

Professor Jane Falkingham and her colleagues from the CPC are winners of the Outstanding Public Policy Impact category in the ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize 2020.

Learn more about the Centre for Population Change.

Top image:  Queen Street, one of Cardiff's main shopping streets, busy with shoppers. Credit: georgeclerk, Getty Images

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