A lot has been made of immigration in the UK. If you listen to some sections of the media, immigration is costing the country far more than it can afford and vast waves of immigrants are irreversibly altering the faces of our cities and towns.
If you listen to the other side however, you will hear that immigration is enriching our communities, making our nation more diverse and providing vast benefits in many areas of our lives. Sometimes, as in the previous two linked articles, those arguments can even be made over the same report.
So which side is correct? Who is really telling the truth about immigration?
Well, the truth is both sides are…to an extent.
First of all, it has to be said that the economic arguments around immigration certainly make for some interesting reading. For example, a study by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) at University College London found that UK migrants who arrived since 2000 are less likely to receive benefits and less likely to live in social housing than UK natives.
Similarly, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) found that migrants tend to arrive in the UK when they are already of working age and they often leave before they retire, meaning that they cost the state far less in education and retirement benefits.
This means that migrants from the European Economic Area (EEA) have contributed £25 billion to the UK economy since 2000. According to the same report, immigrants from other countries have also contributed 2 per cent more in taxes than they received as transfers.
Another argument commonly made against immigration is that of ‘benefit tourism’. This basically refers to EU migrants coming to the UK to make use of free healthcare and other welfare programmes. Again, studies seem to suggest that this is rarely the case.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) published research on the subject last year and found that those born abroad were significantly less likely to claim benefits than UK nationals.
Of the 5.5 million people claiming working age benefits in February 2011, just 371,000 were foreign nationals when they first arrived in the UK. That means only 6.6 per cent of those born abroad were receiving benefits, compared to 16.6 per cent of UK nationals.
Although many of the more sensational headlines and pull-quotes can be debunked in this way, it is clear that immigration is causing genuine problems for cities and towns throughout the UK. Many of those problems have arisen from community tensions and issues surrounding integration and social cohesion.
A lot of this stems from the way immigration has been handled, with vast amounts of new workers being introduced to the UK and little thought being given on how to make that work for communities.
As a result, areas that had previously scarcely been exposed to any kind of post-war immigration have suddenly found themselves forced to cope with a massive shift in their community structure. Many – perhaps understandably – have found this to be a daunting task.
Some sections of our media have looked to exploit that tension by running eye-catching headlines designed to play into and exacerbate the legitimate concerns of these communities. Rather than look to tackle the serious and difficult issues around immigration and globalization, they have chosen to focus on anecdotal scandals and misrepresented statistics.
Immigration has provided a great many benefits to the UK – not least in making it a more diverse, creative and interesting place to live. To paint it as a scourge on British life or an attack ‘Britishness’ itself is to misunderstand the very nature of the United Kingdom and the positives that immigration has had – and will continue to have – on all of our lives.