Britain needs to have a grown-up debate on immigration

by Callum Anderson

Marks & Spencer. Selfridges. EasyJet. Tesco. Know what these iconic British brands have in common? That’s right, they were all established by immigrants. Immigration has always been one of those issues that has never quite completely left the consciousness of British politics. However, over the last ten years, the issue of immigration has become more nuanced: unfortunately the standard of debate has not.

One Nation Labour must begin to not only tackle the right of the Conservative party and the reactionary media (I think you know who I mean), but also the legitimate concerns of citizens, some of who have become concerned with the scale of immigration. There are two vitally important elements that we, as a country, must consider: the first is to decouple race from the immigration debate, and secondly, that economic and social considerations must both be taken into account when devising policy.

But first, let’s take a look at the facts. Britain has undoubtedly benefited from immigration. Almost all Brits, regardless of background, glowed with pride at the country’s diversity displayed during the opening ceremony at the London Olympics. Whether it be through literature, cuisine, music or sport, Britain continues to lead the way in welcoming, and assimilating (although sometimes slowly) new immigrants. And the evidence shows that immigrants more than pay their way.

Recent research by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) has showed that between 2001 and 2011, European Economic Area (EEA) immigrants made a net fiscal contribution of £22.1 billion to the UK public finances, whilst non-EEA immigrants made a net contribution of £2.9 billion. In other words, immigrants contributed far more in taxes and economic output than they took back in benefits. This is to be compared to us natives, who cost £624.1 billion during the same period.

Equally it is wrong to claim that immigrants exploit the British welfare state: between 1998 and 2011, 37 per cent of natives were receiving some type of state benefit or tax credit, whilst EEA immigrants were 8 percentage points less likely than natives to receive state benefits, and non-EEA immigrants 1.2 percentage points less likely. And, what’s more, foreign workers have boosted UK productivity.

Figures by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research have found that a 1 per cent change in immigrant share in employment is associated with an increase in labour productivity of 0.06 per cent to 0.07 per cent. Indeed, immigrants are contributing to all parts of our economy. From the City to the fast developing ‘Silicon Roundabout’ in Shoreditch to our NHS, where 87,000 nurses and 91,000 doctors from overseas keep our health service going.

However, even considering all this, the social implications of immigration have often been neglected. Towns like Peterborough and Boston, and London Boroughs like Ilford and Newham have faced huge challenges on housing, education and health services, . There are many cases of legitimate concerns from people, when large numbers of newcomers, some of whom don’t speak English, come to reside in their communities. A major obstacle to reaching a consensus on immigration has been, in the first instance, the public’s (and by that, I also include the media’s) inability to decouple the concept of race from immigration.

The reality is that the majority of Black, Asian and ethnic minority individuals in the UK are born-and-bred Brits: concerns about immigration are not always racial in nature. It is to our detriment that white Britons, or anyone else for that matter, have become reluctant to speak their mind on immigration for fear of being labelled a ‘racist’ or ‘bigot’. Now, there is no doubt that some remarks made by white Britons do have racist or xenophobic undertones, but not all do. Many are not against immigration per se, but rather uncomfortable with mass immigration.

Indeed, concerns about immigration are not restricted to white Britons. A recent report by the Searchlight Education Trust found that 39 per cent of British Asians and 34 per cent of White Britons were not in favour of immigration during these difficult economic times. At the same time, 58 per cent of British Asians, 69 per cent of black Britons and 62 per cent of white Britons have a pragmatic view on immigration; that skilled (and, in some cases, unskilled) immigrants who will benefit the economy should be welcomed into Britain.

This issue has not been helped by the coalition government’s poorly formed migrant cap, which appears to forget the fact that they can only control immigration, and not emigration. Indeed, academics at the UCL’s Migration Research Unit have doubts on whether a cap ‘is either a useful tool or a measure of policy effectiveness.’

However, whilst we in the Labour party should stop at apologising for our record on immigration when in government, we must also fully acknowledge the fact that the levels of eastern Europeans coming to the UK to take up unskilled employment was too high, and more should have been done to not only encourage British firms to give those jobs to British workers, but also British workers to take them.

But, where to go forward? In the first instance, it is clear that to tackle people’s concerns over the integration of migrant workers into British life, we need to invest in integration courses for newcomers, with a particular emphasis on learning English. Encouraging the integration of immigrants into the British way of life will undoubtedly help alleviate people’s concerns. At the same time however, it is my opinion that the time has come to review the freedom of the labour movement within the European Union. World Bank data shows that UK GDP per capita amounts to £22,710 and £25,378 in Germany, whilst it is just £13,751 in Poland, £9,886 in Bulgaria, and £10,249 in Romania, whose population will have unrestricted access to all EU states from January 2014. Does it make sense for there to be uncontrolled movement within such an unequal bloc of countries? There is no doubt that migration has generally flowed in one direction.

As far as I am concerned, we must welcome any talented individual who wishes to emigrate to Britain and contribute to our economy and our country. Likewise, we can further solidify bonds with emerging countries such as India and China, by encouraging their students to study here, and contribute to our economy through fees. Moreover, we should make it easier for students to stay after the completion of their studies, so long as they filling any skills gap in the British economy, so that they can further contribute to our country.

So in conclusion, what do I propose? As I have argued elsewhere, Britain must resist the temptation to pull up the draw bridge to all outsiders. We need to encourage skilled, ambitious workers from overseas to contribute to our economy. Doing this, alongside making it easier for foreign students to come and study in the UK (and indeed, simpler for them to obtain employment here following their studies) will only bring greater benefits to the UK. However, the UK government should seek to build a consensus with its northern European allies (Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands et al.) to reform the freedom of labour movement – again, not preventing any individual from central or eastern Europe from migrating west with a blanket ban, but enabling governments to control numbers.

There are a whole host of important things that I have not had a chance to mention in this piece (and will perhaps be discuss them in the future). But one thing is clear: One Nation Labour must begin to initiate a sensible discussion about immigration, and treading the line, as fine as it is, between highlighting the positive contribution that immigrants bring to this country, whilst acknowledging that embracing it on a mass scale can bring a certain amount of instability to communities.

Callum Anderson is a recent Economics and German graduate from the University of Birmingham

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3 Responses to “Britain needs to have a grown-up debate on immigration”

  1. swatantra says:

    People forget that ‘immigration’ is a 2 way process; Britons leave our shores for opportunities abroad, and new arrivals come to seek opportunities here. So its pretty pointless imposing draconian Immigration Laws, for the simple reason that they will never work. Human endeavour is such that a mere law is not going to prevent thosae with little or nothing venturing out to make a life for themselves. But as the developing countries develop more of their people will choose to remain in their counties rather than venturing out into the unknown. Thats what Development Aid is important in helping build that self sufficency.

  2. Andy R says:

    Undoubtably there have been benefits, but there have also been problems. Whether or not there is a Net benefit is a complex question that varies depending upon any number of social and economic factors. In other words, what is a good idea at one time isn’t necessaarily at another.

    For antoher thing, suppose we have had an increase in GDP due to immigrants – how much does it represent real wealth, and who gets that wealth? A good propotion of the GDP boost will actually be part of the phony economy that beleives that rising house prices produce wealth, and shortages of housing produce rising prices. The man in the street won’t have seen that much of the supposed boost in wealth, but he’s certainly seen the price of houses and the cost of living go up. And, of course, the extra revenue to the exchequer all has to be spent again on housing benefit because people can’t afford to live in London on their wage. Not to mention the fact that our natural beauty is continually being eroded to be more houses, with whole new cities planned, wrecking a beautful country to make concrete jungles.

    We’re a minimum wage economy, so unskilled labour is of little use in making goods when foreign manufacture is vastly cheaper. So, aside from skilled engineering types and the like, what has the average immigrant got to offer that makes importing their labour justified in a country with huge unemployement?

    Add that to the social divisions – I can tell you that most native Brits I know loathe the Sharia districts popping up in London – and we have some serious questions to ask about any benefit.

  3. Rallan says:

    “we need to invest in integration courses for newcomers”

    Let me correct that for you:

    … we need to spend lots of desperately needed taxpayers money on expensive integration courses for a vast number of newcomers who our worthless politicians have encouraged to settle here without public consent …

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