Despite what the tabloid media tell you, EU immigrants do not drive up unemployment, drive down wages, sponge off the state, stop us getting houses, cause queues at GP surgeries or damage our culture. The evidence is clear and yet we seem determined to risk the prosperity and development of future generations in order to solve a non-existent problem.
Immigration from outside of the EU is, and always has been, entirely under the control of the UK government. What many people don’t know is that we also have significant powers to control EU immigration (https://www.imaginethat.blog/2017/07/27/government-negligence-unacceptable-scale/) but successive governments have chosen not to use them.
Consistent with our membership of the EU the UK Border Force checks the passport/identity card of every person entering the UK and refuses entry to travellers who do not travel with valid identity documents, even if they are from another EU member state. You might assume, therefore, that we always know who is in the country legally. Unfortunately we don’t. Until 8 April 2015 we did not conduct checks on people leaving the UK (1) and even now, putting together entry and exit checks seems to be beyond our government’s capability.
This means we do not currently have accurate immigration data, EU or non-EU, so all policy decisions are based on estimates (2). Fortunately we have a mass of census data and data collected by the Office for National Statistics that supports detailed research and analysis. What do these data tell us?
They’re taking our jobs and undercutting our wages!
Has EU immigration into the UK been economically harmful to people born in the UK? The simple answer is no. Research indicates that EU immigration has benefited the UK. The research (3), published by the London School of Economics, found:
- Jobs: The large increase in immigration in the UK has not significantly harmed the job prospects of UK-born workers.
- Wages: Median real wages for those born in the UK were growing from the late 1990s until the global financial crisis. Since then, wages have fallen by about 10%. The cause of the fall of wages is the impact of the Great Recession – not immigration.
- It is clear that there is absolutely no statistically significant relationship (negative or positive) of EU immigration on unemployment rates or real wages of those born in the UK.
So why do some people believe that immigration hurts jobs? Think about two local authority areas – dots A and B in Figure 1.
Both have had increases in the EU immigrant share of over 8% – well above the national average. In area A unemployment for the UK-born has risen by over 3%, which is also above the national average. So in area A it feels like immigrants are bad for jobs. However, area B has had a similar increase in immigration rates, while unemployment rates have fallen by 2%. These ‘local’ effects are important as they need to be addressed but they do not detract from the broader conclusion that overall immigration does not hurt jobs.
They’re living on benefits and our public services can’t cope!
Wrong again. In a detailed study in 2014 Dustmann and Frattini (5) found that EU immigrants made a positive fiscal contribution to the country: they paid more in taxes than they received in welfare payments. UK nationals on the other hand received more in benefits than they paid in taxes. This means if we reduced net immigration to zero, as some would like, thus losing the positive fiscal impact of immigration, the UK’s national debt could be 40% higher by 2062 (6).
What about our local services?
The LSE research (3) found:
- there is no impact of immigration on crime.
- no effect of immigration on aspects of educational attainment and actually some positive effect from Polish children on UK-born pupils. The disadvantage in having English as a second language seems to be outweighed by a stronger immigrant push to work hard at school.
- no greater usage of doctors and hospitals by immigrants relative to the UK-born; and little effect on NHS waiting times. These studies do not distinguish between EU and non-EU immigrants, but since EU immigrants are younger than non-EU immigrants, they are less likely to use health services, so the results are actually likely to be stronger.
- there is a general perception that immigrants are given better treatment when applying for social housing. This is not true. Controlling for demographic, economic and regional circumstances, immigrant households are less likely to be in social housing than their UK-born counterparts. Lack of access to social housing has more to do with the falling supply of social housing.
- the failure to create enough housing supply would be a problem even in the absence of EU immigration. It is rooted in the failure of the UK planning system to make appropriate infrastructure decisions, not immigration . The research evidence also does not show a correlation between immigration and local house prices.
The fact that the government has been cutting back on public services cannot therefore be blamed on immigration. In reality, immigrants are bringing extra resources that could be used to increase spending on local health and education for the rest of us. Rather than causing problems for our public services, immigrants are actually subsidising us to use them. The fact that we have enormous problems in our public services has everything to do with government policy and nothing to do with EU immigration.
But they don’t integrate !
You would think from what many people seem to believe that Britain is a swamp of culture clashes due to EU immigration. This is simply not true. It does take time for immigrants to assimilate but that does not equate to massive problems (7):
- Britain is not riven by a large-scale culture clash
- The longer immigrants remain in Britain, the more likely they are to think of themselves as British
- Immigrants from poorer and less democratic countries assimilate faster into a British identity.
As to speaking English, 13% of the population was born abroad, but only 138,000 people, less than 0.5% of the population, could speak no English at all and in total only 1.6% of residents could speak it not well or not at all (8). These figures people who don’t speak English because they use sign language! The tiny group who speak little or no English are mainly older immigrants who arrived in the UK after they turned 50 (9).
Immigrants are often accused clinging on to the national identity of their birth, of not wanting to integrate into their local communities in the UK. To try to assess this researchers first had to find a way of measuring ‘cultural assimilation’ – to what extent and over what time frame do immigrants adopt a British identity and think of themselves as British. The researchers used a list of rights and responsibilities.
Rights of those living in the UK:
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of thought, conscience, religion
- Free elections
- Treated fairly and equally
- Free education for children
- Be looked after by the state if cannot look after yourself
- Protected from crime
- Free health care if you need it
- Have a job
Responsibilities of those living in the UK:
- To help and protect your family
- To raise children properly
- To work to provide for yourself
- To behave morally and ethically
- To behave responsibly
- To help others
- To treat others with fairness and respect
- To treat all races equally
- To obey and respect the law
- To vote
- To respect and preserve the environment
For each of these they collected data on whether people think they ‘should have’ and ‘actually have’ these rights and responsibilities as a measure of the extent to which individuals considers themselves British. Interestingly on these measures not all white UK-born people see themselves as British either!
The key findings of interest however are that new immigrants rarely think of themselves as British initially but the longer they remain in the UK the more likely they are to do so. Second generation immigrants are only slightly less likely to think of themselves as British than the white UK-born population and it seems that the gap narrows further with each generation.
The research concludes: “The data on national identity do not support any alarmism about the effects of immigration in general … on national identity.” (7)
Breaking point – politicians have failed us all
We must break free of the EU to take back control of our borders. Really? We already have significant powers to control our borders that we do not use.
Also, the implication behind much of the Brexit propaganda is that the EU is to blame for all or our problems in the UK and so leaving the EU will solve them all. This is nonsense. All the evidence shows that immigration is actually good for our country. Where there are short-term local problems caused by concentrations of EU immigrants in a small geographic area, these can be addressed by policy decisions at the local, regional and national level, and can be dealt with without leaving the EU. There are no long-term problems with EU immigrants integrating into UK society.
There are very real problems in the UK today with social services, employment, housing, wages, education, the NHS and so on, but as the evidence shows these problems are not caused by EU immigration or EU membership. The underlying causes are down to the decisions, and lack of decisions, by successive governments over many years. The solutions similarly lie with government policy and leadership. Leaving the EU will seriously damage our economy and services and hence exacerbate these problems rather than solving them.
(1) HM Government: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/exit-checks-on-passengers-leaving-the-uk/exit-checks-fact-sheet
(2)Full Fact: https://fullfact.org/europe/border-security-eu/
(3) Wadsworth, Jonathan, Swati Dhingra, Gianmarco I. P. Ottaviano, John Van Reenen, London School of Economics and Political Science., and Centre for Economic Performance. Brexit and the Impact of Immigration on the UK, 2016.
(4) BREXIT 2016: Policy Analysis from the Centre for Economic Performance
Holger Breinlich, Swati Dhingra, Saul Estrin, Hanwei Huang, Gianmarco Ottaviano, Thomas Sampson, John Van Reenen and Jonathan Wadsworth June 2016
(5) Dustmann, C. and Frattini, T. (2014). The fiscal effects of immigration to the UK. The economic journal, 124(580).
(6) Office for Budget Responsibility (2013) http://budgetresponsibility.org.uk/docs/dlm_uploads/March-2013-EFO-44734674673453.pdf
(7) Manning, A. and Roy, S. (2007). Culture clash or culture club? The identity and attitudes of immigrants in Britain. Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics and Political Science.
(8) Full Fact: https://fullfact.org/immigration/immigrants-learning-english/
(9) Official Labour Market Statistics