There may be a lot of debate about what the “big society” means, but there’s one thing we should all be able to agree on: we live in a big society – and it’s getting bigger. 62 million today. 64 million in five year’s time. And then on up to 70 million by 2028, according to the government. (No, I’m not doing my bit, as my wife is about to have our third child.) What’s odd is how little debate there’s been at Westminster about all this.
Why? Partly because it means you have to talk about immigration (still seen as toxic by many in SW1); partly because it is one of those issues that is just so big that it almost saps the will to live. Schools, hospitals, welfare, housing, energy, transport, water – it goes to the nub of how we live and function. And partly because the consequences of this population explosion are only now emerging as a political issue on the doorstep.
Research by The Spectator (see graphs below) shows just how great the challenge is, here and now. We’re going to need to build an average of 420 schools a year in England for the next four years. This won’t be news to Michael Gove: it was he who wisely pointed this out when in Opposition. Nor is it news to the thousands of parents across the country whose councils are saying that local schools are full.
To date, this issue has been reported as a “primary schools crisis”. Join up the dots to the social housing crisis. The strains on the NHS – be it maternity wards or looking after the elderly. The congestion on our roads. The growing cost of pensions… The list is endless.