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News Reviews from 2013

Immigration: Eric Pickles isn’t the only one without a clue

By Len Gibbs

2013 started out with the hardy perennial of tabloids and broadsheets – immigration. There were three aspects of the usual stories that lit the touchpaper this time: the first was the 2011 census releases showing the huge change in the complexion of London (amongst other cities); the second was Eric Pickles’ admission that nobody had a clue about the potential extent of inward migration from Romania and Bulgaria and the third was the increased reporting of the links between the benefits system and migration. Underlying all the reporting was a significant change of tack by Ed Miliband with his admission that Labour had made mistakes and his floating of the concepts of benefits restrictions on migrants and tighter border controls. No doubt there is also a link between this issue and the Conservatives pledge to hold a referendum on the future of Britain in the European Union.

Concerns about immigration were often quickly conflated with racism by the Left up until very recently, and even now the Guardian/Observer often fails to report key data releases. Polling evidence shows that migration is a key concern of many voters, in fact there is often a harsher stance taken by second and third generation migrants. In 2010 Demos reported that,

“More than a third (36%) of voters that Labour lost at the last election agreed that ‘Britain should limit the number of people coming from other countries to live and work here because, on balance, they damage our economy and society’, compared with just over one in four (28%) voters who stayed loyal to Labour”.


The 2010 report of the Migration Observatory contained the following poll evidence:

Attitudes toward immigration levels, 2009-2010

The concerns about the extent of migration are now almost dominating the politics of Greece and creeping up the agenda in France. Countries like Spain and Italy are also experiencing real problems in controlling their borders and there have been many incidents of atrocious racist violence and indifference.

Left/Right opinion usually divides around an axis of the Left claiming that inward migration brings economic benefits through skills and diversity, that a rich country like the UK owes international obligations to other countries and that those who are uncomfortable with immigration are closet racists. They also argue that the ageing population requires inward migration to aid growth and prosperity. The Rightist arguments against immigration usually centre on the need to preserve our cultural identity, the need to prevent unsavoury people coming in, the economic costs of providing welfare services to migrants and the economic and social effects within the places where migrants are concentrated.

Getting to the facts around immigration is an enormous problem. There are a host of university departments, thinktanks, pressure groups and official bodies all ostensibly charged with identifying the reality. Even the trusted sources such as the Office For National Statistics struggle to count the right numbers.

  • In terms of the scale of inward migration the ONS has recently published the following figures:
  • In 2011 the population of England, Wales and Northern Ireland was 57.8 million.
  • This was an increase of 3.7 million since the previous census.
  • The population grew by 7%, one of the fastest ever growth rates.
  • Since the 2001 census, with the proportion of white British people has dropped from 87.5% to 80.5% of the population

The table below indicates the scale of the change:

Population of England & Wales born outside the UK
Of course, the table does not reveal anything about regional variations and nor does it include illegal immigration (estimates are between 600,000 and 1 million). For example. in London less than 45% of the population now record themselves as White British. We may say that London is a global city and hence large scale immigration is to be expected given the pull of its economy. But the facts don’t support this view. I recently analysed immigration and outward migration statistics for several depressed Northern cities and in each major population shifts were occurring: all except Manchester were experiencing low level White flight and their previous trajectories of slow population decline had been reversed by large scale immigration. But their economies remained extremely depressed and terribly dependent upon welfare. All cities recorded huge increases in the size of the private rented sector and in the amount of people claiming housing benefit – in some cases 1 in 4 households depended upon housing benefit.


For these cities, mass inward migration has not triggered or followed economic boom; in fact the reverse is true. Many of these cities are losing their middle classes and containing larger concentrations of poor people in hyper ghettos. Their economies are also hollowing out with the new jobs comprising of low paid service sector work which generates further demands for income top ups through welfare. Quite simply there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Britain’s experience of mass inward migration has brought any substantive benefits.


Indeed there is more evidence that mass inward migration is depressing wages, concentrating disadvantage, creating cultural tensions and increasing the demands upon the Government through welfare benefits. In places like Stoke-on-Trent the Polish are driving the buses, stocking the shelves and serving you at the shops. These jobs are not beyond the capacity of local people but there is a big problem around their willingness to do them.


The freedom of labour to move between countries for work is a fundamental principle of the EU. However, in practice this means that people will move from poorer regions to richer regions. Since 2004 there have been huge population movements (particularly from the former Eastern Bloc regions to the UK). Between 2001 and 2011 over 7.5 million people moved into the UK (and many moved back out again). During this period countries like Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania are projected to lose population in the 16-64 age group (source: thereby hampering their ability to rebuild their economies. Again, the regions most likely to lose population will be those that are already economically disadvantaged. The freedom of labour objective therefore conflicts with the regional harmonisation agenda.


The existing disparities between countries and the existence of different welfare regions also encourage migration from the poorer countries to those that offer better health and welfare. Similarly the ERASMUS programme (whereby the EU funds foreign students to study in other countries) is likely to increase the numbers wishing to study and stay in richer countries.


The cohesion agenda of the EU ignores the geographic and historical contexts of regions. For example, ports will have characteristics and advantages relating to transport, trade and logistics. There is no way that these advantages can be transplanted to cities which do not have access to sea trading routes. Just as there is no way (without significant climate change) that Ireland can enter the champagne production sector there is no way that the flat plains of Poland can compete with the South of France as a tourist destination. Regions are complex places routed in specific geographies, with political and historical legacies and inhabited by people with different outlooks – equalisation is an impossible objective and the means of pursuing this objective are likely to reduce the efficient allocation of resources and hinder the emergence of comparative advantages.


So where are we? There is now a sort of consensus around the need to control borders and limit immigration. But whilst we remain members of the European Union there is little realistic prospects of being able to implement any meaningful restrictions of EU migrants. Similarly, the Human Rights Act makes it extremely difficult to exclude other immigrants. Quite simply we have neither the will nor the means to control mass immigration. The only real means is to make Britain less attractive to inward migrants and this will mean radically reducing welfare benefits, restricting access to health services and housing and, crucially, restricting access to housing benefits. Addressing mass immigration to the UK means reducing our welfare state and reviewing our status within the European Union.


Some background articles

Rise of 'white flight', by Emma Reynolds, Daily Mail 27 January 2013

Worried about immigration? Then go and live in Romania, by Marie Dhumieres, Independent 31 January 2013

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