UK: Immigration, the myths and the true costs

A photo of a Polish neighbourhood in London, that The Times chose to illustrate the letter below.

From Wikipedia: “Most Polish migrants arrived in UK after the 2004 enlargement of the European Union. At the time of the 2011 Census, 521,000 Polish-born people reported being resident in the UK, and there is a wider population of British Poles including the descendants of over 200,000 immigrants who settled in the UK after World War II.”

I have not heard anywhere of being people complaining of Poles per se, but just of the large numbers arriving in a very short time.

Letter to the editor of The Times (UK):

Sir,  The article by John Hutton and Alan Milburn ( “Stop Kowtowing to UKIP — immigration works”, May 27) was striking for its exaggeration of the economic benefits of immigration.

In judging the pros and cons of immigration what matters is not as they argue GDP but GDP per head. Immigration may enlarge the economy by having more people but that does not benefit the existing population unless it increases living standards per head.

An inquiry held in 2008 by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee (of which I was a member) found no evidence for the contention that immigration generates significant economic benefit for the existing population. Studies in the US, Australia and the Netherlands have come to similar conclusions. In Britain the government’s Migration Advisory Committee has pointed out that most of any benefit goes to immigrants themselves.

As for the fiscal impact, the study Hutton and Milburn referred to actually found that all immigrants between 1995 and 2011 cost the Exchequer £95 billion.

Hutton and Milburn argue that migrants are a “bulwark against an ageing population”, but as our report pointed out immigrants also grow old and trying to deal with that phenomenon through yet further immigration would require ever escalating levels of immigration.

Of course some immigration brings benefits of skills, energy and entrepreneurship but the dislocation to British workers caused by the arrival of very large numbers of migrant workers has been largely ignored.

Furthermore, the UK-born employment rate is lower than it was ten years ago while, over the same period, employment rates and levels for those born outside the UK have increased substantially.

What cannot be denied is the massive impact of immigration on the size of our population. If we allow it to continue at the average of the past ten years we will add ten million to the UK population in the next 20 years with at least 60% of the increase due to immigration. Practically nobody wants to see this. Our economy may be larger because there is a larger population but how does the individual benefit from that?

I am entirely in favour of an open economy such as we have enjoyed for decades, but that does not require massive levels of immigration.  Globalisation did not begin in 1998 but mass immigration did.  Net migration shot up to five times its previous level.  Vague generalities about the need for “managed” migration will hardly be convincing from those who stood by while net foreign migration reached nearly four million on their watch.  “Managed migration” is, in any case, a meaningless term without any reference to scale.

To dismiss genuine and justified concerns as “myths and fears” is simply to play into the hands of extremists. It is not a more stringent immigration policy which would have “serious consequences for the wellbeing of our economy and society”, as they claim. On the contrary, it is failure to respond to the clear and consistent wishes of three quarters of our population that would indeed have such consequences.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

House of Lords