London's birth rate tumbles 20% in a decade as cost of living crisis puts people off having children

The number of babies being born in London has fallen by a fifth in a decade, the Standard can reveal, as experts warn that the cost of living and house prices mean that people are delaying — or deciding against — having children.

Analysis of figures published by the Office for National Statistics shows that 106,696 babies were born in the capital in 2022, a fall of 20.4 per cent on the figure reported 10 years before and the lowest since 2008.

The “total fertility” rate, which is based on the birth rate across different age groups, also fell by 30 per cent during the same 10-year period in London to 1.39 babies per woman. To maintain a stable population without significant immigration, a country should have a fertility rate of above 2.1.

The dramatic decline means that the capital has by far the lowest fertility rate of any region in England, with the overall figure 14 per cent lower than the West Midlands and nine per cent lower than the North West.

Seven of the 10 areas with the lowest fertility rate in England were all in London. The fall in births and an exodus of families from London due to high living costs have sparked fears that more schools will be forced to close or cut teachers.

The NHS is also consulting on plans to close maternity units at either the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead or the Whittington Hospital in Archway due to a “falling birth rate” in the area.

The reasons behind London’s baby decline are varied but campaigners say the high price of housing and childcare are among key factors, with some parents-to-be leaving the city to cut costs.

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Women’s Budget Group, told the Standard: “Many couples who choose to stay in London are having children later or only having one child when they might have preferred to have two. Some are not having children at all.

“Then many people are forced to leave London to buy a larger house to have a family and we can see this in falling enrolment rates in schools.”

Parents in London typically pay around £218.06 for 25 hours of nursery childcare for children aged two, which is 75 per cent higher than the lowest price in the East Midlands, according to a report by the Family and Childcare Trust.

Lauren Fabianski, from Pregnant Then Screwed, which campaigns for more support for young families, said: “We know that having children in London can cause financial crisis for many women.

“Some families are getting into debt to pay for childcare and borrowing from friends and family, while others are struggling to pay for heating and food. Childcare is a form of infrastructure — families simply cannot work without access to it.”

Thursday’s Standard front page (Evening Standard)
Thursday’s Standard front page (Evening Standard)

Parents in England are entitled to 15 hours a week of free childcare for two-year-olds, with plans to expand to 30 hours of free care for all under-fives from September next year.

But experts have warned that the high cost of living is causing many people who work in childcare to leave London, leading to staff shortages within the sector and fewer nursery places for children.

Dr Stephenson said: “We know that high-quality early years education is one of the best investments you can make in terms of children’s educational development, so we need to properly recognise the skills involved in that sort of work and pay people properly. If workers continue to leave, who is going to provide childcare in London?”

In 2022 — the most recent figures — the areas of London which saw the most babies being born were Newham on 5,598, Croydon 4,872, and Barnet 4,621. The areas with the fewest births, excluding the City of London, were Richmond on 1,827, Kingston 1,726 and Kensington and Chelsea with only 1,387.

The Social Market Foundation has previously warned that Britain was facing a “baby shortage” that could lead to “long-term economic stagnation”.

The think tank said the birth rate was almost half what it was at its post-war peak in the Sixties, warning: “A population with lots of old people and not many children means an unstable economy and an unhappy society.”

Meanwhile, the cost of accessing private fertility treatment in London is also putting off some people from having babies. A report released last month by the website Fertility Mapper found that London is the most expensive city in the UK for IVF, with a single cycle costing an average of £6,150, with Leeds at £4,820 and Manchester at £4,764.

It means someone having IVF in London could be paying 29 per cent more than a person in Manchester, or 28 per cent more than in Leeds.

People hoping to have children here are also far less likely to be able to access IVF on the NHS compared with other regions, according to separate analysis.

The childcare system is broken — people are being priced out of becoming parents

By Joeli Brearley, chief executive and founder of campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed

We are running out of babies. The birth rate is in decline. It is no surprise to us that fertility rates have hit the floor, as procreation is fast becoming a luxury in the UK.

Our research has found that almost half of parents have been plunged into debt or had to use savings to pay their childcare bills — some are even pulling money from their pension pots.

Today, parents who want to have more children cannot afford to do so. Being a parent is tough enough, but when having more children means sacrificing your income, it becomes impossible — it’s financial suicide.

We have one of the most expensive childcare sectors in the world, so much so that for three-quarters of mothers who pay for childcare, it no longer makes financial sense to work.

With childcare fees outstripping the cost of housing for more than two-thirds of families, almost half are borrowing money to pay their childcare bills.

Worryingly, the cost of childcare continues to price parents out of growing their family — and they are making the life-changing decision not to have more children due to the ever-spiralling costs.

Heartbreakingly, our research has also shown that more than half of all women who have had an abortion said the cost of having a child was a key factor in their decision.

When you invest in mothers, you invest in the economy. But without affordable childcare, mothers will continue to quit their jobs or reduce their hours to be able to afford to have children.

The system is broken. If we aren’t careful, people will be priced out of becoming parents, and the economy can’t afford to pay that penalty.