• Alex Dingwall

The Immigration Problem?

British antipathy towards immigration is not a new thing. It is often linked with painting a picture of immigrants as benefit scroungers, burdening the British welfare state and stealing the UK-nationals’ jobs without giving anything back to the system. Some immigrant populations have even been criticised for working too hard. Yes, you read that correctly. Amidst the contradictions listed above, a new wave of anti-immigration recently surfaced with even Prime Minister David Cameron speaking out against apparent masses of tax-dodging illegal immigrants in his 25 March Immigration speech, stating that in the UK, “You put into Britain- you don’t just take out.” But who exactly is doing all this putting in and taking out?

In 2009, Vox, a policy portal set up by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, provided an analysis of the fiscal consequences of post-enlargement migration to the UK of “A8 countries” (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Poland). Vox’s analysis was based on data from the UK Labour Force Survey and publications by HM Treasury, the Office for National Statistics, and several other Government Departments. The analysis found that A8 immigrants arriving between the second quarter of 2004 and the first quarter of 2009 were younger and better educated than the native population. Immigrants also had a higher labour market attachment than natives due to a higher labour market participation rate (88% vs 79%) and a higher employment rate (83% vs 75%). Furthermore, the study found that A8 immigrants are about 60% less likely than UK-nationals to receive state benefits or tax credits, and to live in social housing. And although A8 immigrants receive lower wages than UK-born workers (despite their better educational standards) they do have a higher labour force participation rate and are likely to pay more in indirect taxes like VAT, and-most importantly-make much lower use of benefits and public services. Quite the opposite of what was claimed in 2009 and also in the most recent wave of anti-immigration sentiment.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling and Immigration Minister Damian Green presented new findings from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) on nationality of benefit claimants in the Daily Telegraph in 2012. Channel 4 News Blog did a FactCheck on the research released by holding interviews with Mr Grayling and other DWP spokespersons. The figures showed that an estimated 371,000 people claiming benefits in the UK were non-UK nationals. Meaning that of the 5.5 million people of working age who were claiming benefits in 2012, 371,000 or 6.4 per cent were non-UK nationals. This is in contrast to the 16.6 per cent of British nationals who received benefits. To make matters more interesting, of those 371,000 people non-UK nationals that are claiming benefits, not all of them are claiming “out-of-work” benefits. For example, one could work a 15-hour week and still claim Jobseekers’ Allowance. Hence some of the 371,000 non-UK nationals could be contributing to the Exchequer through tax and National Insurance while they are claiming some benefits, offsetting the burden on the state.

Going back to David Cameron’s statement of “You don’t just take out”, there was no evidence in the DWP research that indicated that large numbers of migrants were receiving benefits that they were not entitled to. Moreover, it also did not provide any evidence of hoards of people migrating to Britain with no intentions of finding work and wanting to live off of state benefits instead. Employment Minister Grayling admitted that DWP had “…yet to establish the full picture. It may be that there isn’t a problem right now.” Another piece of the picture that is missing is up to date, on-going and disaggregated data; including long-term studies of foreign benefit users, concrete evidence of “benefit tourism” or exactly how many non-UK nationals are in-work but claiming benefits. It becomes increasingly difficult to point the finger when there is no concrete evidence to back your claim or even worse when the evidence does not support your claim and points the finger right back at you.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks addressed the European Economic and Social Committee in March of this year with a speech in Brussels in response to the new wave of anti-immigration sentiment, entitled, “Immigration-a source of wealth and duties for Europe”. Muižnieks argued that the rhetoric of fear and hatred of migrants is spread by politicians throughout many European countries, “ various groups and parties present migrants as a threat to public health and security and as adding to the suffering of Europeans hard-hit by the economic crises.” In fact the opposite holds true, immigrants fill jobs that have been abandoned by natives. He suggests that migrants should not become the scapegoats for the difficulties faced by Europe. “Instead, European states should recognise the benefits of welcoming migrants and of setting adequate framework for their participation in the European economy and societies.” A rational management of migration by states would fully respect the civil, political and social rights of migrants. This can be achieved through a human rights based approach, an approach that upholds the dignity of every person instead of disproportionally discriminating against them.

So in the end, is there actually a problem evidenced by facts or is it just a bunch of politicians screaming “immigrants”?