Immigration: facts not fiction, please

by Matthew Whittley

Looking at reports of today’s Queen’s speech, where the government is set to announce plans to restrict migrants’ access to benefits, social housing and the NHS, one could be forgiven for thinking that most migrants are living the life in five bedroom social homes, staffed with their own personal GP.

But the measures mooted will have no impact on levels of immigration, because people don’t come here to claim benefits, they come to work. Of the 850,000 migrants to have arrived from Eastern Europe since 2004, only 13,000 were claiming Jobseekers Allowance in Febuary 2011. Those same migrants are about 60% less likely than natives to claim benefits or live in social housing.

And even if they were “benefit tourists” migrating in search of an “attractive benefits system”, the UK wouldn’t have been high on their list of potential destinations. The UK spends less on benefits than many other European nations including Germany, France and Italy. It would appear that we are not a “soft touch” after all.

Already this morning we’ve heard from Jeremy Hunt touring the broadcast studios about migrants “clogging up” the NHS and claims from government ministers that migrants “expect something for nothing”. This choice of language paints the picture of immigrants as a burden on resources, when in fact they are net contributors to the public finances; we would be worse off without them.

In the four years from 2004, Eastern Europeans contributed over 35% more in taxes than they received in benefits. This language also fosters a climate of suspicion and division that can easily turn to discrimination and xenophobia. We only have to look at Greece, where violent attacks against immigrants have become commonplace, to see where this can lead.

Politicians claim to be reflecting public opinion when getting tough on immigration. But the public’s concerns are largely based on ignorance of the facts; ignorance that is often perpetuated by the kind of rhetoric that has been espoused recently. The result is that public opinion tends to over-exaggerate the scale of immigration, and over half of us view its economic impact negatively, flyin in the face of the evidence.

Politicians have a responsibility to tackle this misinformation and engage in honest, evidence-based debate about immigration, which can only involve facts, not fictions. On complex issues such as this, politicians should lead, not just follow. But too often the temptation to court votes overrides this deeper public duty.

This is tricky ground for Ed Miliband to negotiate, but he has been right to engage in the immigration debate. With an election under two years away, the leader of the opposition can’t ignore what so many of the electorate consider the most pressing concern facing Britain today. The fact that the public are concerned about the level of immigration makes it an issue, even if the concerns are, on the whole, misguided. But he should also, as leader of the main centre-left party, play his part in busting the immigration myths and expose the centrepiece of this Queen’s speech for what it is: an attempt to deflect attention from the ailing economy and a dance to UKIP’s tune.

Matthew Whittley works in the housing sector in a Midlands-based housing association, analysing the impact of coalition policies

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8 Responses to “Immigration: facts not fiction, please”

  1. Neverwasowt says:

    “The UK spends less on benefits than many other European nations including Germany, France and Italy. It would appear that we are not a “soft touch” after all.”

    It may appear that way to you. It does not appear that way to many who have looked at those other states’ systems. They rely much more on contributory benefits – much as the system Beveridge devised. This is key. EU law does not allow us to deny immigrants benefits which are non-contributory (including NHS care). Germany etc can deny them benefits which are contributory.

  2. Helen says:

    Maybe the myths about immigrants are fostered by facts on the ground. Such as groups of eastern European workers getting contracts for building and shop refurbishment and only employing their own nationality. Also reported is that health and safety rules are in Russian or Polish so English speaking people cannot work on these sites. There is also reported experience of racism against black people from groups of eastern European workers. Maybe ensuring that the equal opportunity legislation of our country is applied to these contractors would help to create a fairer competitive environment. I also noted a newly elected UKIP counsellor complain that immigrant workers work for the minimum wage and this is too low for people like him to pay their mortgages, which seemed to me to be a more left wing point that right wing! Sometimes politicians say English people will not take the jobs that immigrants take. There is a difference between the level of income needed by young English people wanting to set up home and family in this country and young people working here temporarily to save money to take home. I would be interested to know how much of the employment building the Olympic site went to British workers! But maybe the supply and demand mechanism applied to the Labour market is what the Capitalists need to maximise their profits and this suits politicians of all colours.

  3. Nick says:

    On the facts front.

    Ah yes. You’ve missed off 500,000 Poles who appear in the Census, but not the migration figures?

    Notbing like starting with a lie.

    Then we’re straight in to the racism. Migrants are better than British because there are fewer on benefits. Nothing like a bit of anti-British racism is there.

    Then the simple point, why allow any migrants to claim benefits? Those claiming clearly aren’t good for the UK economically.

    Ah yes, its that racism thing again. If one migrant is good, all must be good.

    Abu Qatada is a migrant. Is he good for the UK?

    In the four years from 2004, Eastern Europeans contributed over 35% more in taxes than they received in benefits.

    Ah yes. Nice bit of selective thinking.

    The government spends 11K per person per year, on average. That needs a 40K a year salary (per migrant, not per family) to break even.

    The vast majority of migrants are not net beneficiaries to the UK.

    So you’re peddling a lie.

  4. Ex-Labour says:

    You stand Canute-like against public opinion, much the same as Miliband.

    Comparing various welfare benefit systems across the EU countries is not comparing apples to apples. There are many differences which I’m sure you are aware of but choose to be disingenuous and misleading.

    In a recent meta analysis of the various studies done on immigration it showed the claim that immigration has a net benefit depends on how the various immigrants are classified by each study. A slight adjustment here and there gives the exact opposite result. The highly skilled immgrants were shown to be economically beneficial but the general unqualified and low skilled were actually a drain on national resources.

    As a nation we should have the right ( like most western democracies) to chose who we allow in based on what we require as a society. In the Labour years they acknowledged they had a secret open door policy which only came to light via a whistle blower.

    We now have around 12,000 foreign prisoners locked up which because of ECHR legislation we have no chance of deporting, not to mention approximately 200 foreign murders and rapists on the loose according to the figures I saw a few months ago.

    Its because of bleeding heart bed wetters like you we can do nothing to protect ourselves.

  5. Ben Cobley says:

    Beyond talking and lies, lies and damned statistics (which are invariably used highly selectively in debates like this) I think the most important thing to point out is a debate like immigration isn’t really about being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It is a political matter, which can be informed partly by statistics but not wholly.

    The implication that only certain statistics are legitimate contributions to a debate on immigration and that certain opinions of people expressed peacefully and democratically are meanwhile illegitimate is something some people need to do some reflecting on.

    There is no ultimate right or wrong here – it is a matter to be decided democratically, and not reserved for certain experts who are right and know best while the plebs (who are wrong) are deliberately ignored. There is a word for this: authoritarianism, and it’s what UKIP are currently feasting on.

  6. dwll says:

    So the voters send a very clear message through the local elections that they are deeply unhappy about immigration and that they are sick of politicians not listening to them. And the all too typical Labour response from this article?

    “the public’s concerns are largely based on ignorance of the facts”

    “public opinion tends to over-exaggerate the scale of immigration”

    “politicians have a responsibility to tackle this misinformation”

    “the concerns are, on the whole, misguided”

    “busting the immigration myths”

    And we wonder why voters get angry at the political class refusing to listen? Ordinary Labour/ex-Labour voters have legitimate concerns about immigration – on wage levels at the lower end of the labour market, pressure on housing, shortage of school places, rapid changes to the character of their community. Why don’t you try listening to them?

    I’m a former Labour member but when you display this sort of contempt to the people you are supposed to be representing it really makes me hope that you people are in opposition for a long long time.

  7. Renie Anjeh says:

    The thing about immigration is that moderates in Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems agree: immigration is a great thing for Britain, multiculturalism is also a benefit BUT they must come here to integrate with our society and contribute to our country, low-skilled and unskilled migration has been too high, the system needs to work effectively so that it does not hurt the economy – through depriving the private sector with the wealth and talent abroad that we need – or hurt our society – through driving down wages, too much demand for services and housing. I want to hear Yvette Cooper and Chris Bryant say that message time and time and time again. What we need is an independent Office for Immigration Management, to monitor immigration policy, answerable to Parliament, oversee immigration policy, give ‘traffic light’ warnings and consult with the public and it should set the immigration cap not the Government and hold inquiries. Such organisation could de-politicise the debate and ensure we have evidenced-based immigration policy.

  8. John Reid says:

    Damn ,can’t fault the first 6 comments, even the seventh one by Renie, doesn’t deflect the fact that we can’t just say the propaganda on the other side is wrong, but the view is right,

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