Immigrants bolster UK economy ... but are unwelcome

Posted on: 07 November 2014 by Gareth Hargreaves

How governmental spin and media hyperbole undermines the essential contribution foreign workers make to the UK economy

report shows immigrant contribution to UK economy

New research from University College London’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration shows that immigrants from the 10 countries that became members of the EU in 2004 have contributed more to the UK economy than they took out in benefits.

The findings in the study, the Fiscal Impact of Immigration to the UK, published in the Economic Journal, also show that Britain fares better than any other EU state in attracting highly skilled and highly educated migrants.

Translating those foreign workers into Treasury cash based on the figures in the report shows that UK public finances (between 2001 - 2011) benefitted from a net contribution of £20 billion. Migrants from the original 15 member states (France, Germany, Spain, Italy etc) accounted for 64% (£15 billion), while working migrants from east European states contributed 12% - the equivalent of £5 billion.

The findings undermine claims made in newspapers such as the Daily Mail and Daily Express while highlighting the value to the UK economy of free movement within the EU. This comes at a time when an increase in right leaning briefings and social media activity from the Conservatives, UKIP, Immigration Watch and neo fascist ‘patriots’ Britain First promoting stricter border controls is gaining worrying levels of public acceptance in the UK.

Immigration has permalink topicality in the psyche of much of the UK. In spite of our lineage of Celt, Roman, Saxon, Norman and Norsemen or Huguenot, Russian Jews and Commonwealth migrants, Britons continue to think as an island race and when events don’t go our way, we have a tendency to try and pull up the drawbridge and keep those nasty foreigners at Channel’s length.

Migration Watch chairman Sir Andrew Green is one such example, he refutes the findings in the report, telling the BBC: "If you take all EU migration including those who arrived before 2001 what you find is this: you find by the end of the period they are making a negative contribution and increasingly so.”

He continued, "And the reason is that if you take a group of people while they're young fit and healthy they're not going to be very expensive, but if you take them over a longer period they will be."

The theory behind Green’s assertion is correct – but only based on the cost to the economy of older or sick non working migrants, or those with families. However, he ignores statistics that predict the numbers of migrants leaving the UK in the next two years will be around 200,000. Also missing is any acknowledgement of Britain’s need to fill a growing skills shortage and the role mobile migrants play in balancing our ageing workforce.

Sir Alan spent the majority of his working life in the diplomatic service in the Middle East, Paris and Washington – but then he was an expat, not an immigrant!

It is cheerless listening to the clamour of anti immigration activists demanding tighter border control and the withdrawal of benefits and housing for immigrants. The inconvenient truth within the argument is that the UK needs foreign labour; from low skilled to highly skilled, they are essential to the economy.

That David Cameron is pandering to the right and pointy elbowed little Englanders with promises of curbs that put us at odds with European law, is at best foolhardy – at worst it is political cowardice that shows he is afraid to tackle the hard Right of his party so close to the May 2015 election. What is Britain coming to when the intelligence-lite ramblings of the likes of Nigel Farage can pressure a government into adopting a damaging tack that could have disastrous effects on our trading and political relationship with the EU?

Angela Merkel said this week that the UK had reached a tipping point in its relationship with Europe; the increasingly belligerent and isolationist attitude towards Brussels, plus the threat to ignore fundamental European principles such as Freedom of movement and work within the EU and a planned revocation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) illustrate how far from the path we have strayed.

A tipping point indeed, but if there is no sensible discussion on why migrant workers are so important to our economy and why free movement between member states should be championed rather than challenged, we will be walked regardless to the cliff's edge and step off. That will show them in Brussels!


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