Immigration is rarely out of the headlines. With Ukip making it a key election issue, David Cameron has had to sit up and take notice.
Mr Cameron’s pledge to cut annual net migration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands shows no signs of being met. Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that net migration was 298,000 in the year to September 2014.
But he is sticking to his target, while Ukip leader Nigel Farage has said he wants to drop plans to place a 50,000 limit on the number of immigrants allowed into Britain.
Now research has been published by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, which estimates that the migrant population of England rose by 565,000 from 2011-14, with two thirds of arrivals coming from other EU countries. So does Britain benefit from immigration?
Economy and growth
A “rough and ready” calculation by Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), estimates that migrants make up about 15 per cent of the British workforce and contribute a similar proportion of GDP.
He told Channel 4 News: “Overall, migrants have contributed a lot. They have made a substantial contribution to economic growth.”
NIESR research suggests that if Mr Cameron achieved his tens of thousands target, by 2060 GDP per person would be 2.7 per cent lower and public spending would have to rise by 1.4 per cent without the tax revenue generated my migrants.
Others believe the benefits of immigration are over-stated. Migration Watch, a “non-political body which is concerned about the present scale of immigration into the UK”, argued in a report on Labour’s immigration record, published on 2 March: “Claims were made at the time of economic benefits through higher productivity and greater innovation, but no study has found any significant benefits to GDP per head once the increased population has been taken into account.”
Jobs and wages
A 2012 report from the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) looked in detail at all facets of immigration.
It found that migrants did not have a negative effect on the native population “in buoyant economic times”, but this picture changed in “depressed economic times”.
It said: “A ballpark estimate is that an extra 100 non-EU working-age migrants are initially associated with 23 fewer native people employed. Such evidence suggests that successive governments since 2008 have been right to make non-EU migration more selective.”
But the MAC said “displacement” of British workers was not in proportion to the increase in the foreign-born population.
While the employment of migrants rose by 2.1 million from 1995-2010, “the employment of such working age migrants rose by approximately 2.1 million. The associated displacement of British born workers was, on our calculations, around 160,000 of the additional 2.1 million jobs held by migrants, or about 1 in 13”.
On wages, it said that while previous studies had found that migrants had “little or no impact on average wages”, some had concluded that migrants had led to a lowering of wages “at the bottom”.
Tax and spend
So do immigrants give more than they take? The Migration Observatory says there is uncertainty about the impact of migration on public services.
In a cost benefit analysis, carried out in 2014, it concluded that their impact was relatively small. “The evidence suggests that the fiscal impact of migration in the UK is small (less than +/-1 per cent of GDP) and differs by migrant group (eg. EEA migrants vs non-EEA migrants, recent migrants vs all migrants).”
It added: “In theory, migrants who are young, skilled and doing highly-paid jobs are likely to make a more positive net fiscal contribution than those with low skills and low labour market participation rates.”
A report from UCL’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration, published in November 2014, looked at what immigrants contributed to the economy between 1995 and 2011 and what they took out.
It considered what they paid in taxes compared with what they claimed in benefits, social housing, education and other public services and found that European migrants made a small net contribution, whereas non-Europeans gained more than they contributed, to the tune of £100bn. Their most striking finding was that native Britons also gained more than they contributed (£600bn).
In its report, the MAC said: “Skilled migrants are, on average, net contributors to the public finances.”
It has been estimated that almost a third of health professionals in London, and two thirds of carers, were born abroad.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK population is expected to grow by 9.4 million in the next 25 years, from 64 million in 2013 to 73 million by 2039.
Migration Watch says England (not the UK) is the most second most crowded country in Europe after the Netherlands, and that this increase is “the equivalent of the current populations of Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Manchester, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Bristol, Cardiff, Newcastle, Belfast and Aberdeen”.
There is evidence that some native workers have been displaced by migrants, and that wages earned by those “at the bottom” have been affected.
But overall, does the growing migrant population give more in taxes than it takes in benefits and public services? That depends on which immigrants we are talking about.
The UCL research says that while European migrants made a small net contribution from 1995-2011, non-Europeans gained more than they contributed.