Dozens of local communities across England and Wales would have suffered “spiralling” population decline without immigration, a new report shows.

Research by think tank Global Future found that without the arrival of migrants between 2001 and 2016, public services in 57 local authorities would have been starved of staff and funds due to a shrinking population, sending the communities into decline.

Nine local areas, including Southampton, Barking, Dagenham and Slough, would have suffered at least 5 per cent population decline without immigrants, while 130 local authorities would have suffered a working-age population decline, according to the report.

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A shrinking, ageing population hurts public services and local employers, encouraging more people to leave and creating a “vicious cycle” which has led to decline in many parts of the world, such as small towns and cities across America’s Rust Belt, it said.

The report’s author, Fergus Peace, said preventing population decline was one of the key benefits of immigration, but that it was “hardly recognised” in public debate.

“Dozens of local authorities in every part of the country would be at risk of spiralling decline if it weren’t for the migrants who have helped keep local populations stable,” he added.

“But it won’t continue without an approach that encourages immigration to the areas that need it most. Current policy does the opposite, channelling migrants to London and the other big cities.

“As the government reviews our immigration system, they must make sure the path is open for migrants to settle in other parts of the country.”

The findings come after the birthrate in England and Wales hit its lowest level since records began, with the figure down by 3 per cent from the previous year and 10 per cent from 2012.

They will raise questions about the arguments made by Leave campaigners during the Brexit referendum, which included claims about the burden immigrants place on public services and resources.

Drawing on lessons from countries like Australia and the US, the report argued that better policy was needed to ensure immigration continues to help counter depopulation.

Changes could include different regional salary thresholds, easier paths to permanent residence for migrants living in areas with demographic challenges, and increased refugee resettlement to places outside London, it said.

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