Tackling Scotland’s population challenges

New report stresses the need for a national response.

Measures to address the falling birth rate, change working practices and encourage more families to settle in Scotland are proposed in a new report.

A Scotland for the Future examines the significant population challenges the country faces - including an ageing population, falling birth rate and the emerging impacts of Brexit – and makes clear that a national response is required.

The report, launched today at the Convention of the Highlands and Islands, outlines ways that organisations can work together, locally, nationally and internationally, to deliver the long term changes required. 

It proposes a range of actions including:

  • support packages to help families settle in Scotland, including assistance with housing and work for both partners
  • developing a more sustainable population pattern, with fewer people concentrated around cities
  • community work hubs in town centres for people struggling with remote home working but who do not need to commute
  • widening access to fertility treatment to groups such as single people and couples who already have a child
  • removing barriers which force older people to stop working before they wish to
  • establishing a Demographic Commission to promote analysis and debate

Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop said:

“For many years people left Scotland to build a future elsewhere. Like many advanced economies we now face different challenges, such as a falling birth rate, while Brexit threatens to significantly reduce inward migration from the EU.

“There is no single magic bullet available to address our demographic challenges. Instead this report proposes a series of innovative steps to build a sustainable population by attracting people into Scotland, distributing our population more evenly around the country and helping everyone live long, productive lives.

“But we can only do so much with the powers we have, and the UK Government must also play its part by using its reserved powers, particularly on migration, to address Scotland’s unique issues.

“A Scotland for the Future is a national response to a national challenge and represents the start of a process to create a thriving country for generations to come.”

The report has been welcomed by Councillor Kelly Parry, COSLA Community Wellbeing spokesperson. She said:

 “Population is a key challenge for councils, whether we are dealing with the social and economic impacts of depopulation or tackling the issues of rapid population growth.  Achieving strong and sustainable communities is a key priority for COSLA and Scottish local government. 

“A Scotland for the Future is an ambitious document that recognises the complex and multi-faceted demographic challenges we are facing.  It distinguishes between the issues faced by different local areas across Scotland and that is why local government is crucial in determining local priorities for their own areas based on local need and circumstance.  It acknowledges the important role economic development, infrastructure, housing, planning, education and migration, to name but a few, will play in counteracting our population challenges.  

“We know there is no quick fix here, tackling our population challenges is a long-term goal.  COSLA and Scottish councils have worked closely with the Scottish Government to develop the population strategy and ensure local views are embedded in this document.  We will continue to work collaboratively to help our communities thrive.” 


A Scotland for the Future is available online.

Scotland’s population, although at a record high, is ageing and all population growth over the next 20 years is projected to come from inward migration. But this is now under threat from the end of free movement within the EU, with the Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population predicting that the UK Government’s post-Brexit immigration system could reduce annual overseas net migration to Scotland – which stood at 30,200 in 2019 - by up to a half.

At the same time the birth rate is falling, with the average number of children per woman falling from 2.5 in 1971 to a record low of 1.37 in 2019, compared to the England and Wales average of 1.65. For a population to grow, the fertility rate needs to be 2.1.


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