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Are the young leaving Britain?

world Updated: May 25, 2010 00:35 IST

Much is being made of the young blood flowing through Britain’s new coalition government. The prime minister is 43, the deputy prime minister is 43 — indeed, the average age of ministers it seems, is 43!

That’s an impressive achievement in an aging society. But outside the confines of the grand government buildings in central London, could it be that this nation is actually emptying of its youth?

Two recent studies and some anecdotal evidence appear to be pointing in that direction — to be specific, in the direction of Australia and Europe. Young Britons, anxious about the impact of the recession, particularly job cuts and looming tax rises, it seems are heading out in a hurry.

A poll of young people by health insurance providers Aviva found that 54 per cent are considering migrating abroad for work. Their favourite destination is Australia but only on a short-term basis (earning them the nickname of ‘Boomerang Brits.’) Forty-three per cent thought a year working abroad would help them ride out the British recession but 20 per cent would consider working for up to three years and 25 per cent would settle abroad.

A second survey — the snappily titled 3rd Annual NatWest International Personal Banking Quality of Life report — shows that most British expats are having rather a good time of it and, quite understandably therefore, in no tearing hurry to head back home.

Working abroad gives them a better quality of life with higher salaries, more leisure time and less stress — only 19 per cent of expats said they would return to Britain for good, compared to 26 per cent in 2008.

A 22-year-old woman who is about to graduate from the University of East Anglia tells me that a number of her friends are packing their bags for continental Europe — mostly France, but also Germany and Spain — because “the jobs just aren’t there.” These skilled young men and women hope to find jobs in the creative industry and healthcare so they can pay off their student loans.

There’s a further crunch — with university places cut and fees set to rise, many school-leavers are having to seriously rethink entering higher education.

At the same time, the British population is aging, with serious economic implications. In mid-2008 the average age in Britain was 39 and, according to the Office of National Statistics, this is set to rise. By 2033, 23 per cent of the population will be aged 65 and over compared to 18 per cent aged 16 or younger. The average Briton in that year will be 40 years old.

All of which makes the recent immigration policies of British governments (Labour clamped down; the coalition will put a cap) hard to make sense of. Why stop skilled migration from India when the skills are on offer are what you need most?