All points North


A growing, ageing and more ethnically diverse population could provide the north of England with opportunities for economic growth, according to a new report.

The research, carried out by the N8 Research Partnership of the north's leading universities - Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York - focused on demographic change in key northern cities and city-region economies over the next 25 years.

The report highlights potential economic opportunities which could result from a changing population, including the creation of more "silver entrepreneurs", a bigger market in health technologies and care services and opportunities for the construction industry as homes have to be built or adapted to meet the needs of a growing and ageing population, many more of whom will be living with long-term illnesses.

The N8 Research Partnership combines the world leading research capabilities of Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York universities, and creates collaboration with industry to bring this research to market.

The report comes as the Coalition Government's new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) begin their work to promote economic growth and rebalancing of the economy. It was officially launched, on Thursday, September 15, at a public meeting in Sheffield Town Hall attended by representatives from businesses, local authorities, Government, universities, think tanks and voluntary organisations.

The report puts forward key areas that LEPs, Local Authorities and their partners should focus on to maximise the economic benefits of population dynamics, and key challenges which will need to be addressed.

According to the report, the North of England's population - currently 15,117,000 - could increase over the next 25 years by at least 1,123,000 or by as much as 1,821,000.

As a consequence of people living for longer, the researchers say that the number of people with Limiting Long Term Illnesses could increase from 3,268,000 now to 4,163,000 in 2036.

The researchers also say that if "age-specific participation rates" remain constant, the North's labour force could fall by four per cent to 6,764,000. The research team included experts in economics, employment, enterprise, geography, urban and regional development, demography and health from the universities of Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. They have highlighted a range of economic opportunities and challenges in these areas.

These new opportunities include:

  • The creation of small and medium enterprises from an increasingly active and entrepreneurial older population;
  • The market provided by affluent older people;
  • New businesses, research and innovation in areas like health technologies, aids to living and care services;
  • Opportunities to adapt existing homes and design and build new homes to accommodate a growing number of smaller households;
  • The contribution of younger ethnic minority and migrant workers to maintaining the age balance of the population as the wider population ages rapidly.

The challenges detailed in the report include:

  • The importance of maintaining an increasing number of workers in the labour market for longer, implying policies to delay retirement, update skills and maintain flexibility;
  • The need to ensure that the capacity of health and care provision adapts to support an increasingly older population, with more people wanting to live at home in their older age;
  • A forthcoming demand for a larger number of homes for smaller households;
  • The need to think about the planning of local communities, transport and services to respond to the needs of more elderly and minority communities.

The report highlights the relevance of the 'localism' agenda as the population is changing in different ways in different parts of the North. It argues that local leaders need to understand the detail of the changes and respond in a co-ordinated way.

Professor Ray Hudson, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Durham University, who led the research, said: "The work that the team has produced tells a compelling story about the importance of understanding and addressing the changing structure of the population in the North's key economic centres.

"The research does not support apocalyptic visions of a demographic time bomb, but it does show clearly how our population is changing and that there are important economic implications - both opportunities and challenges.

"Most Northern City-regions' populations are growing, ageing and becoming more diverse, but the patterns of change vary between places. We need to look at these patterns carefully, grasp the opportunities and address the challenges." 

The University of Leeds made two vital contributions to the N8 Research Partnership project. Philip Rees, Chengchao Zuo, Pia Wohland, Paul Norman of the School of Geography; together with Carol Jagger of Newcastle University; and Peter Boden and Martyna Jasinska of Edge Analytics Ltd, extended projections of local authority (LA) populations by age, sex and ethnicity (see to forecast the health, labour force and households of northern England LAs and the Local Enterprise Partnerships they belong to.

Lisa Buckner, Gary Fry and Martyna Jasinska of the University of Leeds School of Sociology and Social Work worked with Karen Croucher of the University of York to extend the projections to include serious illnesses including dementia and the potential number of carers.

The projections document some of the adverse and challenging consequences of ageing for city regions in northern England. According to Professor Rees, these projections were likely to be too pessimistic as age-specific illness prevalences will probably fall in the 2011-2036 projection period. In part, this is because of the innovative work in health and care technologies being developed by northern universities, exemplified by the work of the NIHR Leeds Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit, led by Professor John Fisher, Deputy Vice Chancellor.

N8 Universities are currently working together to promote stronger relationships with business and industry in areas such as regenerative medicine and molecular engineering. The demographics project is the first in which the N8 has brought together experts from social science disciplines to focus on demographic and economic policy issues.

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Please contact the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email