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Coronavirus: UK fertility rate falls to lowest level on record

Bonn, Germany - February 26:  In this photo illustration a young pregnant woman is holding her baby bump on February 26, 2021 in Bonn, Germany. (Photo by Ute Grabowsky/Photothek via Getty Images)
Researchers warned that the health crisis will “depress fertility, particularly among young people”, as more of them are living with parents and are unable to socialise due to lockdown restrictions. Photo: Ute Grabowsky/Photothek via Getty Images

Britain's fertility rate has fallen to an all-time low as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the country.

According to a new study by Southampton University’s Centre for Population Change, the fertility rate in England and Wales slumped to a fresh low of 1.6 children per woman last year. This was below the previous nadir of 1.63 recorded in 2001.

Researchers warned that the health crisis will “depress fertility, particularly among young people”, as more of them are living with parents and are unable to socialise due to lockdown restrictions.

Postponed weddings and job losses are also factors considered in the research, leading to a possibility of up to 66,000 fewer children being born across the UK.

Recent data revealed that women are expected to remain disproportionately affected by the impact of the pandemic, with the gender pay gap likely to increase in 2021.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that mothers are 1.5 times more likely to have quit or lost their job since the lockdown was imposed in March 2020. Employment fell at its fastest pace in a decade in 2020 from close to record highs just over a year ago.

READ MORE: UK 'baby bust' expected in 2021 due to COVID-19

The study from Southampton University, which was first highlighted by the Telegraph, also said that in a worst-case scenario, the rate could drop to 1.45 by 2023.

“Because fertility at all ages was declining before the onset of the pandemic, this could mean a further decline in fertility to historically low levels for the UK,” it said.

“Our projections show that for three scenarios out of four fertility is expected to decline over the next three years leading to significantly fewer births annually compared to the pre-pandemic period.”

It estimates that 689,984 babies were born in Britain last year, however, in a worst case scenario, where declining pre-COVID trends continue, the total falls by 66,051 by 2023.

In England and Wales births slide by 9.5% to 58,854, while babies born in Scotland drops by 5,167 to 43,016. In Northern Ireland the number of births also falls by more than 9%.

READ MORE: Parents in the UK hit by coronavirus poverty as '40% forced to cut maternity leave’

It comes as some 14.9 million people — 29% of the UK’s adult population — have seen a negative change of circumstance due to the pandemic, such as unemployment or redundancy, or have been furloughed through the government’s Job Retention Scheme with a reduction in salary.

Of these, 7.1 million have fallen behind on essentials or borrowed to make ends meet, with Brits owing an average £1,365 in arrears and £1,577 in debt per adult affected.

Of those who have made an application for Universal Credit since March, 24% are in severe problem debt and 28% are showing signs of financial difficulty.

Some people whose financial situation has been hit by COVID-19 have been unable to afford basic necessities, with 17% reporting hardships including having had fewer than two meals a day for two or more days and having rationed or gone without basic utilities such as electricity, heating or water for five or more days.

More than 3 million people negatively affected by the coronavirus have fallen behind on essential bills such as council tax, rent and utilities.

Financially vulnerable groups, such as younger people aged between 25 and 34, families with dependent children — particularly single parents — and those with lower household income have been most at risk of both falling behind on essential bills and borrowing to make ends meet.

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