Myths and misconceptions: understanding public opinion on migration

14th June, 2014 3:26 pm

I appreciate John Denham’s thoughtful response to my criticism of his outlook on migration. But I’d still like to see John commit to not only listening to the public but to challenging and educating them. Because an informed electorate is essential to democracy.


John makes the point that ‘real people don’t live aggregate data’. But I put this question to him: are people against increased migration really experiencing the impact of immigration on ‘a local level as a real pressure on local public resources’, as he suggests?

Let’s look at the facts. Rob Ford points out that when voters are asked about the negative impact of migration locally ‘only around 10-20% reports a problem’, but when asked about the impact nationally ‘around 60-70% say yes.’ Moreover in London, where the density of migrants is greatest and the impact of migration keenly felt, residents are more pro-migration than anywhere else in the UK; a finding which ‘holds even for white UK-born Londoners’.

The public’s anti-migration attitudes are, therefore, rooted in national misconceptions. These attitudes are often based on faulty “common sense” arguments. People assume, for instance that if more people use the same health services then we’ll get a poorer quality NHS. Or that if more people come here and work for less, there’ll surely be lower wages and fewer jobs. These assumptions ignore the myriad of ways that migrants  relieve pressure on public services. This is not only achieved by adding to the profit of UK plc. For instance, ‘approximately 30% of doctors and 40% of nurses [were] born outside the UK’ – without migrants the NHS would crumble.

John may be right that fundamentally attitudes on migration are  shaped by the principle that welfare and public services arise from contributions. But the facts around this are also skewed. While it’s true that in a small number of cases this principle is being violated, the vast majority of migrants do their fair share. In fact, they contribute more than most. For instance, an NIESR study (2011) found that tier 1, 2 and 4 migrants ‘impose significantly less demand’ on health, education and personal services than non-migrants. While an IPPR study conducted in 2005 showed that migrants have higher net annual fiscal contributions than non-migrants. Not only are immigrants taking less out of the system, but they are putting more back in.

If the vast majority of migrants are living the principle of only taking based on their contribution, then surely the solution is to tie up any loopholes.

The crux of the problem is public perception. The public do not know that, as John explains, ‘the amount of child benefit paid to non-resident children is a tiny proportion of the welfare budget’, or that migrants are less likely than non-migrants to use the health service. Rather, the public think that migrants are committing widespread, systematic abuse of our county’s generosity. This perception is fuelled by sensationalist newspapers and politicians keen to appear understanding of misinformed public concerns. This is self-perpetuating as the more the public are fed migration myths, the more they believe them and then note only examples that confirm their hypothesis. In turn, politicians and the press are discouraged from challenging public opinion. Instead they’re incentivised to be even tougher on migration.

Ultimately, what many politicians debating migration fail to accept is that the public is uniformed about the extent of migration, the financial support given to migrants and the national impact of migration.

If migrants’ impact on the UK was portrayed in a positive light and done so in line with evidence , then perhaps the public would not be so convinced that the principle of the welfare services – only taking based on one’s contribution – has been compromised.

As a political party, we have a democratic duty to inform voters of the facts of migration. This not only involves challenging the tabloid press and populist politicians, but the public itself.

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  • Tokyo Nambu

    As an electoral strategy, telling people loudly that they are stupid and you know better is never a winner, even if they are and you do.

    But some of this stuff is absolutely tin-eared. For example, “The public do not know that, as John explains, ‘the amount of child benefit paid to non-resident children is a tiny proportion of the welfare budget’”. The obvious response is “why isn’t it zero?” It would be trivially easy to fix (pay child benefit to the resident parent at the address where the child is living) and the “but it isn’t very much” argument comes down to the “a million here, a million there, after a while you’re talking about real money” argument which goes straight to the “Labour are profligate with public money” problem.

    • Hi Tokyo,

      Thank you for your response. In terms of electoral viability please see my last article for related polling data. Challenging public opinion on migration my not be as electorally damaging as you think.

      It terms of the child benefit issue. I agree that it shouldn’t happen and that it would be trivial to fix. However, what I am saying is that the public overestimate the extent of “abuses” and consequently believe this is a large scale issue part of a systematic series of abuses. If we put this and similar issues into perspective, then the public may not be so anti-migration. By all means fix it, this is what I meant by ‘tie up any loopholes’ but put it into perspective and challenge the narrative of widespread “abuses”.

      • Tokyo Nambu

        “If we put this and similar issues into perspective, then the public may not be so anti-migration.”

        Do you want to try writing the leaflet? For a start off, no-one will believe the Labour Party if they result to the “facts”, because of the monumental, unbelievable, utter incompetence of a government which in 2004 said that there would be fewer than twenty thousand Polish immigrants. After that particular disaster, which Labour has only half-heartedly apologised for, no-one is going to listen to Labour giving a little lecture on how they understand the numbers and the electorate doesn’t.

        Secondly, wagging your finger at people who believe they have a problem and saying “we will do nothing to help you, because we believe there isn’t a problem in the first place” is completely insane as a political position. Do you want to write the leaflet for that one instead?

        • FMcGonigal

          “..there would be fewer than twenty thousand Polish immigrants.” Although figures were underestimated the level of discrepancy is often exaggerated in the press. Various figures were suggested for the NET ANNUAL number of EMPLOYEES that would come to the UK when Labour chose not to restrict entry in 2004. Between the censuses of 2001 and 2011 the number of Polish-born people in the UK rose from 58,000 to 579,000.

          Clearly a lot more that 20,000 per year but this includes dependents, self-employed, students and those of independent means.

          • Tokyo Nambu

            “Although figures were underestimated the level of discrepancy is often exaggerated in the press.”

            Thankfully, the shadow Home Secretary isn’t going to try the “we were right really, it’s the nasty press that are the problem excuse”.

            “As Ed Miliband has said, the last Labour government got things wrong on immigration We should have had transitional controls in place for Eastern Europe. The figures were wrong, and migration was far greater than we expected.

            As a result the pace and scale of immigration – and particularly low skilled immigration – was too great and it is right to bring it down.

            And we should have recognised more quickly the impact on low skilled jobs, and the worries people had.”

          • FMcGonigal

            I agree – this does not contradict what I posted.

          • brianbarder

            Perhaps Yvette Cooper would be kind enough to explain why Labour “should have had transitional controls in place for Eastern Europe” and why “it is right to bring it [the pace and scale of immigration] down”, given that she must know that immigration is a major net benefit to the economy and indeed to society. Until she does, she will be vulnerable to the suspicion that she is kowtowing to the right-wing tabloids and to the most ignorant and prejudiced sections of public opinion, instead of showing some leadership and telling the truth about immigration.
            Parliamentary Labour’s support for Grayling’s vicious policy of mandatory prison sentences for a second offence of possession of a knife, further eroding the discretion of the judges to make the punishment fit the crime in each individual case, can be explained — and certainly not justified — only as another example of trimming policies in response to the ignorant and reactionary clamour of the tabloids. This is pure political cowardice. Whatever happened to Labour’s core values?

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        I am sure that you are correct in both data and logic.

        Unfortunately, you are on the wrong side of public emotion. In purely practical terms, is 10 months enough to convince people? I suspect not, and nor do I think Labour has enough money to pay for the big advertising.

        It is my belief that the public’s mind will not be changed in 10 months, and if that is true (IF) then Labour might be better served by actually keeping entirely silent about the issue and hoping it diminishes.

        Your figures for NHS workers I can confirm from my local experience. My senior charge nurse is an example (as am I, but I am a dual national). She is Polish, speaks 3 Eastern European languages fluently, and is the best nurse I have ever had the privilege to know. God knows that I am grateful to have her on my team, and Great Britain paid nothing for her basic training. We have a complete bargain in her.

        • TomFairfax

          The same could be said for Polish engineers, and others from the EU, (the software, hardware and mechanical types) who to put it bluntly haven’t been indoctrinated with the traditional English attitude to work which you often do not to see even in the British operations of foreign companies that have a strong company culture.

          In reality, in the engineering world at least, they’ve taken the role that used to be filled by better educated and motivated Scots emigrating south to fill the gaps that couldn’t be closed by the locals. There simply aren’t enough Scots engineers to fill that demand these days, so they have to come from somewhere else otherwise our own businesses will hit a brick wall of not having the staff to maintain, let alone expand the businesses.

          • BillFrancisOConnor

            Many of the Poles I know are intellectuals who place a high value on art and culture. My pre-existing view of them as grunting plumbers has been blown out of the water by my experience of them (and my encounters with them) in real life.

            PS There is of course nothing whatsoever wrong with plumbers or indeed people who grunt.

          • TomFairfax

            We might be at cross purposes on the definition of intellectual here. I’d prefer polymaths who can go from Fourier & Laplace, to an interest in art and culture instead of just the latter. Immigration is currently highlighting the problem with our education system and associated cultural expectations.
            Another defect in the English education system is that we think they are mutually exclusive interests as opposed to both being the necessities of a balanced education.
            You only have to listen to BBC Radio 5 Presenters occasionally on any basic mathematical related topic to realise there are gaping holes in peoples knowledge. It’s clearly OK in some circles to admit the equivalent of being unable to read, providing it’s something to do with maths.

          • BillFrancisOConnor

            Not everyone can be an intellectual colossus like you Tom.

          • TomFairfax

            lol. You really should mix with some engineers, I mean proper ones, with the qualifications. I’m afraid you’ll find we’re worse than surgeons in the arrogance stakes generally, but that’s because we know the surgeons couldn’t do their jobs unless someone gave them the tools first.
            Generally anyone can look at something and draw their conclusions about the skill involved in creating it, and the thought, where it’s dynamic, or not. Maybe not appreciate it in the same way, but you can only lead a horse to water…
            However, the mental block with maths and science is a peculiarly English thing, which doesn’t seem to have afflicted others so much on the other sides of Offa’s Dike or Hadrian’s Wall.

            The problem is a lot of people seem to have the idea something’s too difficult, and not enough is done to try to prove to them it’s not the case. We are all born with the same brains.

            A colleague of mine has been pointing out some obvious weaknesses in regards to providing traveler sites in Warwickshire.

            There’s no central control, so each district council is effectively guessing on it’s own, so the total provision is more likely to be incorrect than correct. The survey the local council made was to ask the travelers themselves, and of cause only an idiot would not then reply with a high answer to be on the safe side. But the best bit is the claim that living in permanent accommodation is harmful to their health. The only available data shows the opposite, for the obvious reasons that people aren’t in the one place long enough to get proper treatment.
            It’s not difficult, but worryingly does seem so for far too many in authority.

          • Tokyo Nambu

            For an intellectual colossus, making sub-GCSE grammar errors (“There’s no central control, so each district council is effectively guessing on it’s own”, “in peoples knowledge”, for example) and being unable to spell near-homophones correctly (” and of cause only an idiot”, “Offa’s Dike”) makes you look a bit of a twit, especially in the midst of a rant about how thick other people are.

          • TomFairfax

            I assumed Bill, was being sarcastic, given past form. But in case you haven’t heard the phrase before. “I wanted to be an engineer, and now I are one” has an element of truth about it. Anything else they do in Maths degrees that other people have to know to do their jobs regardless?

          • TomFairfax

            Tokyo, Fuller reply. You’ve missed, I think, my main point. Our education system seems to pigeonhole people as humanists or technical and ne’er the two should meet. The bit about us all being born with the same brains was intended to make it clear that I considered absence of learning not the same as incapacity to learn.
            The people we see from other countries in my line of work have a greater breadth of education, as well as in many cases, a greater depth of knowledge.
            For the record knowledge of Fourier wasn’t a ‘degree’ level requirement for people doing technician level HNC courses in years past when I was at Poly, even in the days of CSEs. (Of course wiring a plug was something for the HNC students that was considered too dangerous for HND and degree students, but I learnt that from my Gran.)
            I’m not clear that the ‘History of Art’ as a degree precludes knowledge of the subject to anyone who hasn’t done that degree, so why assume anyone can’t grasp the basics of another subject, though clearly you’d like them to defer to experts in the case of important decisions. It’s the refusal to think logically, learn from past experiences, and base decisions on facts I object to.
            Actually Dyke or Dike isn’t an issue of homophones at all. I have to plead ‘damned creeping Amercian cultural imperalism’ via spell checks. It’s telling me currently that ‘neighbors’ is correct.
            My thinking is that the most powerful question in the English language is effectively ‘Why…?’. It uncovers woolly thinking and, rules of thumb that no one can explain, too often for comfort.
            As for the main point of the thread. The main issue is ‘Why do people come to the UK?’, and the answer is very often because we need their skills, and yet have an army of people that are unemployed. Solve that issue and draw factor reduces.

          • Doug Smith

            “There is of course nothing whatsoever wrong with plumbers or indeed people who grunt.”

            Glad to hear that. Many of the plumbers and grunters I know are intellectuals who place a high value on art and culture. My pre-existing view of them has been blown out of the water by my experience of them (and my encounters with them) in real life.

            PS There is of course nothing whatsoever wrong with people who are not plumbers nor indeed, with people who don’t grunt.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            My sister is an engineer, quite a senior one as the Director of Engineering of her company. If you ever fly on an Embraer jet, she designed the little winglet tips, and it is not just the shape, but the materials. As our country is rather more sexist than the UK, and she has reached this position, I am enormously proud of her. She actually worked hard at University, whereas I spent much of my time at Medical College playing rugby and “cramming” for exams only when I had to. But, we both passed our courses.

            She is however tremendously pedantic, which is common with engineers. I still love her most dearly, but goodness she can be the hard work.

          • TomFairfax

            My family no doubt knows the feeling.

          • PeterBarnard

            Thanks for the uptick, TF. Hope you are well.
            Jaime has a point (“public emotion”). I don’t think that whatever evidence is placed in front of the electorate, that a significant proportion of the electorate will view immigration (and immigrants) with an open mind.
            Obviously, the effect of immigration varies from area to area, but what I cannot understand, for the life of me, why it was that in a period when the proportion of working-age people was already high (as high as it was in 1951), that Labour had to throw open the doors.
            Of course, although the proportion of working-age people was high (in the early-2000s), that masked the decline in participation on the male side of those of working age, from 87% in 1979, to 78% in 1997 – there were about 3/4 million less males employed in 1997, than there were in 1979.

          • TomFairfax

            Hi Peter, Don’t disagree. One problem is that we make it too difficult for our own people. For instance someone from abroad only has to have ‘equivalent’ qualifications. So for instance when the Class P regulation for electrical installations was introduced, against a storm of protest from the then IEEs own members against it’s own leadership, we introduced as a country a requirement that simply made it cheaper to recruit foreign electricians.
            So we put barriers in front of our own tradesmen that foreign competitors don’t have. For the more technically demanding work we simply don’t produce enough people with the skills and knowledge, and for the lower paid farm work, Portuguese migrants for instance will do work that natives won’t apparently do in farming. Realistically education only solves one of those issues.

            So whilst I share your confusion over the numbers, realistically if people have the wrong skills then they won’t be the ones that get recruited, so what’s happening to re-skill them.
            I have a friend whose gone from Director of Marketing job to trainee teacher now, and years ago I knew an ex-IBMer who retrained as a GP. A third change for him, because a graduate in Art isn’t obviously a candidate for IBM in the first place. It isn’t that people aren’t capable of the changes, it’s the mindset that says it’s too difficult, or it won’t be possible. Coupled with the fact, that in most cases, how does someone maintain an income during the re-training.

            I don’t see how the UKIP approach is anything other than an irrational attempt at destroying the economy and jobs, much as the Greens would, if they ever had a chance to implement some of their more hair brained policies.

          • PeterBarnard

            Agree, TF.
            It crossed my mind after I remarked about the absolute decrease in male employment levels, “How many skilled people did we lose amongst that 3/4 million, never to return?”

            Damn Thatcher and all her works ….

          • brianbarder

            Surely the question is why anyone would think that Labour should have kept the doors shut to keep out immigrants, not why they “had to throw open the doors” to them? The proportion of working-age people in the population is absolutely irrelevant to the desirability of accepting immigrants. There is no fixed pool of jobs and it’s not a zero sum game: the net effect of immigration is to create more jobs, however many native British workers are in jobs at any particular time, and there’s no evidence whatever that immigration exercises a perceptible downward pressure on the level of natives’ wages — the opposite may well be the case..
            For Labour to keep quiet about these truths because they run counter to current prejudices would be a sad betrayal of everything the party ought to stand for. We should be leading and educating public opinion, not tamely capitulating to ignorance. Otherwise we are going to find that a future Labour government’s policies are going to be dictated by the Sun and the Daily Mail, in which case we might as well pack up and go home.

          • PeterBarnard

            I’m not sure that it is possible to say that the net effect of immigration is to create more jobs, without equivocation. I have read just a couple of papers on this (HCRP 08/65, and the HoL Select Committee report), and it seems to me that the subject is riddled with nuances, not to say poor statistics gathering.

            The male working age population was already under-utilised in 1997 (possibly to the tune of 1.5 to 2.0 million), and it seems to me that the proper course of action would have been to have re-trained our existing work-force, without bringing in people from outside. Certainly, Beveridge had re-training in his sights when he published his famous report.

            Please don’t take this as a blanket objection to immigrants being absorbed into the UK work-force. That is far, far from my mind. However, if we have a surplus of indigenous male labour – as we did in 1997 – then it seems to me that we should create opportunities for those people, before we bring in resources from outside.

          • Brian Barder

            They don’t have to be mutually exclusive alternatives. If there’s a “surplus of indigenous male labour” — i.e. unemployment — the government has a duty to take various kinds of available action to stimulate economic activity. Encouraging immigration is one of these. Anyway the existence of indigenous unemployment will tend to discourage immigration in a kind of self-correcting mechanism.
            It’s about time we started to view these matters from a European point of view, not just that of Little England, or even just the UK. Few would argue that if there’s a surplus of indigenous male labour in Somerset, job opportunities should be created for them before workers from Gloucestershire are allowed into the county. Indeed in these times of a globalised economy, even a European perspective is now too narrow.
            The needs and interests of would-be immigrants deserve consideration, not just those of “indigenous male labour”. Immigration confers benefits on the people of the receiving country and also on the immigrants. Those arguing for action to reduce it have a duty to explain why all those concerned, hosts and migrants, should be deprived of those benefits.

          • PeterBarnard

            I’m not so sure, Brian.

            On your Somerset/Gloucestershire analogy, what has happened – with mixed results, it has to be said – is that government has had a “regional policy” (or regeneration, call it what you will), where industry has been encouraged via grants/tax measures etc to move to a deprived area.

            Another thing that has happened, possibly more frequently, is that people have moved away from the deprived area, to an area where the local economy is strong. The obvious example is internal migration to London, and the South East. Another example of migration is from Ireland, to the UK (and further), for decades, until halted by the infusion of EU grants to Ireland in the early 1990s.

            I’m interested in your last two sentences. I would disagree that “those arguing for action to reduce it have a duty ….” I think that the benefits should be spelt out, and there’s no better vehicle to do that than a typically pungent BB article on LL that we can take to the Daily Mail xenophobes.

            Finally, two things that I don’t believe about immigration : (i) immigrants cause unemployment in the native population. The significant unemployment was already there, thanks to the Conservatives 1979-1997, and (ii) immigration causes housing to be more expensive. Across the country (England, only),there were more houses for every 100 people in 2010, than there were in 2001. The recent (last decade) ridiculous increase in house prices has not been driven by demography ; it’s a financial phenomenon.

          • brianbarder

            Thanks, Peter. Your remarks about Irish immigration until EU support triggered economic recovery and prosperity in Ireland are a good illustration of the self-correcting and equalising tendency of movement between countries and economies — the important point about that being that there needs to be unrestricted freedom of movement of people for it to work, as there has been between the UK and Ireland. We wouldn’t dream of restricting movement between Gloucestershire and Somerset, whatever their respective unemployment or regional regeneration schemes: in exactly the same way we shouldn’t even contemplate freedom of movement between EU member countries. To quote George Osborne’s infamously mendacious claim (as applied to rich and poor in Britain), so far as Europe’s concerned “we’re all in it together”.
            I’m flattered by your suggestion of a pungent piece for LL as a weapon against the Daily Mail xenophobes, but I fear that my immigration economics may be too shaky, as discussions in this thread may suggest. But Sohail’s original post above is full of good stuff worth firing off at the know-nothings, and there’s plenty more in some of the excellent and educational comments here.

          • PeterBarnard

            Thanks, Brian.

            Always a pleasure to have a conversation with you, albeit of the “cyber variety.”

          • brianbarder

            And thanks to you, too, Peter. Nothing wrong with cyber, although perhaps Mark might organise a pub lunch some time for regular LL contributors and commenters so that we can see one another’s faces for the first time! Meanwhile, on to more cyber dialogues on future topics, no doubt.

          • PeterBarnard

            I’ve often thought about a pub lunch thing, myself, Brian.

            The wonders of cyber … a bit of nostalgia for you (both social, and the excellent Bad Penny Blues by Humph) :


          • brianbarder

            A lovely clip which tells a vivid story – and a wonderfully nostalgic sound-track. But it’s essentially a story of poverty and deprivation, neither of which has been eliminated, by any means,but both of them take a different and probably preferably a preferable form today.
            I do miss the Humphrey Lyttelton sound, though. And wasn’t he an Old Etonian? If only Cameron and his pals had stuck to jazz!

          • PeterBarnard

            Hey! As someone who is no doubt regarded by many as “pedantic,” I think I prefer the description “precise (or “unambiguous” ; I will always apologise for an ambiguity on my part).

            It goes with the territory (“works of engineering construction”) : imprecision and ambiguity lead to mistakes being made, and these can vary from the merely annoying, to catastrophic failure and loss of life, limb and property.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Peter, I love Pedantry, particularly when I am correct. I also love arguing with Engineers, as they never try to change the point being argued.

            God bless engineers, without whom life would be infinitely worse.

          • PeterBarnard

            Thanks, Jaime, and in a spirit of mutual admiration, God bless medical folk – especially the team that removed the lymph nodes from my neck (malignant melanoma-associated) in January, 2010.

            “The team” included the nurse who sat down to chat with me the night before the operation, to ask me how I felt about things. “I dunno,” I replied, “there’s an awful lot of critical pipework and control cables running up and down there ….” The nurse explained that the operating team (led by Mr Kevin Hancock) was one of the best in the country.

            It was the same nurse who reassuringly squeezed my shoulder when I was being wheeled on the trolley the next morning. That’s nursing.

            There was also the eye-team at the Countess of Chester, who diagnosed and gave me the treatment for uveitis at the same time (I was actually more concerned about my eyes, than the operation). They were first-class – as was the eye specialist who came to Wrexham Maelor A & E on a Sunday morning, maybe ten years ago now, to see my wife who had floating dark patches in her vision – an indication of a possible detached retina. It wasn’t. What it was, I can’t remember now.

            As for a “negotiating method,” I invariably found that a highly effective method was to say., “I’ll put you in breach.” That always grabbed attention ; I would not say those words unless the breach was clearly demonstrable ….

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas


            We are just plumbers for the working day (at least in A&E) to completely misquote Shakespeare. Most of the technical skill is in stabilising things, most of the management skill in juggling triage over time. My main selection criteria for new young House Doctors is not being worried by the unknown. A disappointedly large contingent of medical students cannot cope with uncertainty; their previous training is all geared to receiving patients with perfect data served up on a side plate. Life is not like that.

            The real brains are the specialists who actually make things better.

            But your “pipe work and critical cabling” line is quite brilliant. Do you mind if I borrow it?

          • PeterBarnard

            Not at all, Jaime – and thank you – as long as you don’t frighten anybody (both patients, and junior staff) with the analogy.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            I need constant practice Peter. My young boy visibly blanched yesterday when I gutted a rabbit that I shot in the evening. We were in the kitchen, and my main audience was my daughter who wants to be a vet like her mother, but my boy was looking on with interest. I removed the head, legs and tail and the whole skin, but he did not like the evisceration.

          • PeterBarnard

            There are some areas of life in which it does no-one any harm to “remain a virgin” for a little bit longer, Jaime.

            I hope the lad isn’t put off rabbit for life.

      • PoundInYourPocket

        the UK is within the EEA and as part of the EEA Co-ordination rules the UK can not discriminate against EEA nationals when making benefit payment decisions. The UK has already changed the “habitual residency” rules to the disadvantage of EEA nationals , which is the subject of a European Court case. As for child benefit, it’s not easy to claim for a child that’s abroad. But the same rules apply to UK and EEA nationals that are habitualy resident in the UK. I don’t have the data to hand on how many EEA nationals are claiming child benefit / child tax credit for children not resident in the UK, but I expect they could only be short term payments and be for a tiny proportion of EEA nationals resident in the UK. The press have a nose for the exceptional cases that appear on the front pages, but they are the equivelant of the “single-mother-with-13-children” stories, true but of no relevance.

        • Tokyo Nambu

          “The press insist on the pjorative term “immigrant” but we are ALL EEA nationals rather than UK nationals. Whilst we remain in the EU , that’s the law. ”

          Great. Another absolutely irrefutable talking point for the bloody UKIPers to get us out of the EU with. A key point about most benefits is that they are cheap to provide because most of the money recirculates in the UK as VAT-able expenditure, payment to businesses who employ people who in turn pay income tax, etc, etc. If the money goes straight out of the UK, it’s more expensive. Hence the reciprocal agreements about indexed payment of state pensions, because simply paying them worldwide is expensive (and requires foreign exchange for the state, too).

          If the claim is that the consequence of EU membership includes single men coming to the UK and then being able to claim child benefit for children we have no way to even confirm exist and are no UK citizens, then it’s an open door for Farage to push open. I’d love to see the Labour front bench try to justify that one.

          • PoundInYourPocket

            Farage is pushing that door wide open, but those that created the present system and were it’s champions have now either fallen silent or cravenly appease UKIP. New Labour as you recall were fully signed up federalists and were in favour of joining the Euro (with the exception of Brown). Why are they not making the same arguments now, why the silence ? All I’m pointing out is that EEA nationals have rights given to them by the UK government and should not be victimised for excercising them. Labour should be defending the system they created rather than hanging the “immigrants” out to dry.

          • Tokyo Nambu

            “Labour should be defending the system they created rather than hanging the “immigrants” out to dry.”

            If Jon Cruddas could get off his arse and actually produce some policies, this might be viable (I see today he’s writing about the vital, vote-winning, heart of the matter, everyone is talking about it issue of “green policies”, which is rather like worrying about the colour of the lifeboat covers on the Titanic). As it stands: ten months. Tick. Tock.

          • FMcGonigal

            “Another absolutely irrefutable talking point for the bloody UKIPers to get us out of the EU with..”

            EU rules require that we treat non-UK EU citizens the same as UK citizens. We are not forced to pay Child Benefit where the child is in another country, in fact we could abolish Child Benefit altogether. Current UK benefit rules are based on where a parent is based (this was even before we joined the EU). There is a good case for changing that, so long as we apply it to all EU citizens.

      • MonkeyBot5000

        It terms of the child benefit issue. I agree that it shouldn’t happen and that it would be trivial to fix. However…

        No. Not “however”.

        Just fix it.

        “If we put this and similar issues into perspective”

        It doesn’t need any bloody “perspective”, it just needs someone to get off their arse and do it.

      • styopa

        Why do you say it shouldn’t happen? You are eligible if you live in the UK and have responsibility for a child, or in certain circumstances if you are temporarily abroad or live in an EEA country or a country with a reciprocal agreement with the UK: That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.

  • JoeDM

    The LibLabCon establishment keeps its head in the sand and says ‘We don’t see any problems’.

  • treborc1

    I tell you the data I like my own eyes, in my own town and I can tell you immigration is making a massive difference and like it or not it’s affecting the way we live and not for the better.

    God it’s no wonder the public are turning away, bloody data.

  • Steve Stubbs

    When abuse exists, if only in small packets – and legally in the example of children overseas getting child benefit – then it doesn’t matter if it only a small part. Why do you think that millions (literally) of UKIP voters believe that it is a major problem? If you leave a crack open, your opponent will insert a wedge and start hammering; this is what has happened over this issue. Dispelling the myth is impossible, it has taken root. It is the idiocy of making such payments in the first place that is the root cause.

    Politicians must learn not to give hostages to fortune.

  • Whoever wins the next election will, I hope but expect, create the right kind of economic conditions to expand the economy, increase the GDP and the growth in the GDP to at least what it was prior to the 2008 crash.

    So anyone who wants to keep the borders as open as they now are, has to explain how those extra jobs will go to current UK residents rather than EU residents in their depressed Euro straitjacketed economies.

    Even now, though unemployment in the UK is too high , it is nowhere near as high as it is in France, Italy, Spain and most countries of the Eurozone. It makes perfect sense for young unemployed people from these countries to move to the UK to look for work.

    No-one is saying they shouldn’t be allowed to come – just that the process of their coming should be controlled.

    • brianbarder

      To restrict immigration to a level which matches emigration is simply to deny ourselves the benefits of net immigration, for absolutely no defensible reason. Immigrants contribute more on average to the economy than natives, use fewer social services resources (including the NHS), add to the proportion of the population that’s of working age (essential to support an ageing population), increase aggregate demand in the economy and hence encourage new investment which in turn creates more jobs, and tend to remedy shortages of skills in particular sectors, all to the benefit of consumers. Why should we try to restrict it? (In the case of EU nationals, of course we can’t even if we wanted to, which is just as well!)

      • Its not necessarily true that net immigration ” increases aggregate demand in the economy”. There has been net immigration since 2008 and yet the GDP is still lower now than it was then. In other words the UK is producing even less now that it was then even though there are more people available to contribute towards that production. So on a per capita basis the decline in GDP is even more severe. Therefore aggregate demand now is less than it was prior to 2008.

        Aggregate demand can be controlled by the fiscal policies of government and when an economy is growing healthily, it can and usually does, make economic sense to encourage immigration. I would entirely agree that the UK has benefited from net immigration prior to 2008.

        However, in the situation where economic growth is stagnant, or even negative, we need to reconsider. Immigration will have a depressing effect on wages, as we can observe has happened. Furthermore, the resentment of those who are working on those wages , if indeed they have a job at all, will lead to a increased level of popular support for quasi-fascist parties. Which we can also observe has actually happened.

        • Brian Barder

          You make some interesting points here, but I wouldn’t agree that the decline in GDP since the banking crisis demonstrates that immigrants have not added to aggregate demand. Coalition government policies since it took office in 2010 have been perversely designed to smother demand in the economy just when it needed to be boosted — e.g. by the swingeing increase in VAT and by sharply reducing the spending power of those with the highest propensity to spend, namely those on benefits and other low-paid workers and their families. Immigrants spend money on all manner of goods and services, as well as paying taxes while consuming fewer social services resources than the native population, so even in a recession (especially a recession wilfully deepened by an ideology-driven government) it seems reasonable to believe that immigrants do help to boost demand even at times of low or negative growth in the economy. The fact that aggregate demand remained so stagnant for so long during a period of relatively high immigration is presumably down to quite different factors, such as counter-productive government policies, collapse of demand in overseas markets, the credit crunch, potential investors’ lack of confidence, and so forth.
          IOW, if it had not been for immigrants, demand in the economy would have been even more depressed than it actually was and the recession would have been even deeper.

          There seems to be a significant correlation over longish periods between historically high periods of prosperity and economic growth, and high levels of immigration, which is not surprising since each obviously tends to boost the other.

          I remain mystified as to why the Shadow home secretary should commit Labour to reducing immigration levels, unless her motivation is simply a cynical bid for electoral advantage. This Blairite habit of constantly positioning Labour somewhere to the right of the Tories on issues such as immigration, crime and prisons policy is shabby and short-sighted, as well as betraying basic Labour principles.

          • Aggregate demand in the economy is defined by the amount of spending within that economy and into that economy from external sources. The two external sources are:

            1) from government which, when they run a deficit, has a net positive effect on aggregate demand but a negative effect when they run a surplus.

            2) From the rest of the world. However, the UK runs an external deficit. Spending out of the economy reduces internal aggregate demand.

            If immigrants themselves bring high levels of wealth with them the spending due to that wealth should properly be included in 2)

            When governments run expansionary policies, it inevitably means that the spending power has to be provided by Government from deficit spending ( as in USA, UK) or from extra revenue into the economy derived from the sale of exports. ( as in Germany, Switzerland, China ) etc.

            In either case, that extra spending power can be inflationary, if resources are being called upon which do not readily exist. That’s where immigrants have a positive effect. They can allow that growth to occur without inflationary consequences. But net immigration, per se, has no effect on total aggregate demand.

          • Brian Barder

            Thanks. That’s all illuminating and helpful. But I can’t reconcile your first observation (“Aggregate demand in the economy is defined by the amount of spending
            within that economy and into that economy from external sources”) with your last (“net immigration, per se, has no effect on total aggregate demand”). Immigrants add to the total amount of spending, mostly from their earnings after arrival but no doubt in some cases from the money that they bring with them; what they spend would not have been spent if they had not come into the country. To deny that is surely to fall into the error of believing that any job done by an immigrant means a job lost by a native, which is simply not the case. High levels of immigration tend to go along with high rates of economic growth and prosperity. When different countries and areas have widely differing levels of employment and unemployment, the free movement of labour — i.e. unrestricted migration — will tend to equalise employment levels over time. Everyone benefits from that.
            Protectionism impoverishes everyone, whether practised in restricting the movement of people or in restricting trade in goods and services. (There may be exceptions to this in the case of economies in the very early stages of development but that hardly affects the argument in the case of western Europe.)

          • I’m really talking about 3 sector financial balances. There is a well known equation (which you can Google) which states that

            Govt Surplus + Private Sector Domestic surplus + Rest of World Surplus = 0

            In the UK the Govt runs a deficit. The Rest of the World runs a trade surplus so from the UK’s POV they are in trade deficit.

            PDDS is also the savings of the private sector.

            So we can say:

            Govt Deficit = PS Savings + External Deficit (from trade and other transactions)

            So let us consider a very simple economy of 10 self employed workers. They each spend and earn one currency unit every week. So their net savings are zero and total aggregate demand = 10 currency units per week. On average they spend, between them one currency unit on imports. So to keep everything balanced the government also has to run a budget deficit of one currency unit per week. If it does not do that then the total internal aggregate demand will only be 9 currency units. Unless this covered by falling savings in the private sector one worker will lose his job. The private sector has, of course, a limited capacity to run down its savings.

            So lets add another worker. We assume they are penniless to start with. So in the first week he contributes to create 10% extra things. But where are his wages (one currency unit) going to come from? This one unit has either got to come from the savings of the private sector, or (more likley) the government has to increase its deficit by one unit to two units.

            So after that first week the total aggregate demand will be 11 currency units. GDP will have risen by 10%. Again the workers spend one unit on imports so the Goverment only needs to add one unit rather than two and everything settles down as normal. Until another immigrant arrives.

            The essential point is that the extra aggregate demand, during the transition, to assimilate the extra worker, has to come from either the government or from the savings of the private sector. It doesn’t just happen automatically.

            If the governemnt refuses to increase its deficit and the private sector refuses to reduce its savings the immigrant will either be unemployed himself or displace another worker in the economy.

            We can’t just assume that demand = supply which is otherwise known as Say’s law. That’s a big point of difference between Keynesians and classical economists who would have workers reducing their wages by 10% to accomodate the new arrival and of course prices would follow too! That is just not the way things happen in real economies.

          • brianbarder

            I’m both impressed and puzzled by your illustration, Peter. Just as there’s no fixed number of jobs in the economy, so there’s surely no fixed amount of money available for hiring and paying new entrants into the economy. The banks increase the money supply by lending and indeed currently the Bank of England pours liquidity into the economy with its quantitative easing programme. An input of immigrants ready and willing to work, mostly healthy and fit and adventurous and innovative (as shown by their readiness to migrate), will boost the confidence of entrepreneurs and other businessmen that if they invest in increased production of goods and services, they will be able to sell them because there will be consumers out there ready and able to buy them. Some of them at least should then either begin to draw down their reserves or else borrow from the banks in order to install new plant and equipment and above all to start hiring labour again — exactly what’s needed to re-start the economy after a slump (‘recession’).
            This willingness of business to recommence and expand investment and production may of course be reversed by government action, e.g. to increase VAT and reduce the incomes of those who spend most or all of their earnings by cutting benefits and producing conditions in which very low pay, zero-hours contracts, and so forth, prevail, and the spending power of consumers is correspondingly eroded. It’s obviously wrong to blame any of that on immigration.
            An influx of immigrants into a particular area or sector may certainly result in individual members of the indigenous population being unable to find work, or unable to find work at rates of pay which they’re prepared to work for. It may even have a temporary effect of depressing wage levels in the area or sector affected. This is clearly distressing (or even disastrous) for those affected, but these effects will be temporary and transitional and won’t apparently affect the overall economy in even the medium term. All change produces casualties, but that’s not a reason for resisting change: it’s a reason for taking action to protect the interests of the casualties, for example by helping them to re-train for better-paid jobs elsewhere in the economy or in the country, which is indeed what tends to happen. Numerous reliable studies have failed to produce any evidence that overall immigration reduces the jobs available to native workers or that it depresses native workers’ wages to any significant or measurable extent — some of the evidence suggests that it boosts them, other evidence that it slightly reduces them, but in neither case significantly.
            Given the indisputable net benefits of immigration to society and to the economy, the onus is on those who favour restricting it to explain how forgoing those benefits can be justified. They’ll have their work cut out.

          • Are we discussing whether net immigration is potentially beneficial to society? If so, I would agree that it can be. Though we do have to be careful to define ‘beneficial’. For example are we more interested in GDP or GDP per capita? If immigration shouldn’t be controlled from the EU countries, why should it be controlled from anywhere else? These are all questions to be answered at least as much politically as economically.

            Or are we discussing whether immigration, in itself creates an increase in aggregate demand? Does an increase in the supply of labour necessarily create a increased demand for that labour?

            There is no reason to think that. That’s typical supply side economic thinking which is beloved of neo-liberal thought. It’s been proven to be incorrect time and time again. Aggregate demand has to be regulated by Government. If it isn’t we can and do have mass unemployment. That’s the lesson to be learned from the Great Depression and the present day Depression in the Eurozone.

            It’s a lesson which the neoliberal economists of the present day Labour Party are determined to unlearn.

  • Jane Millican

    That Brits in areas of high immigration are those least likely to feel anti-immigration as negative is evidence enough that this is not a very reasoned debate. I liked your article, but the existential issues behind anti-immigration feelings are not addressed by
    offering data and facts. Conspiracy theorists will bat facts aside and claim
    they are actually more evidence of the conspiracy. I don’t have a solution, but
    if someone feels that something has been taken from them, and they blame their
    neighbour for taking it, until they find that thing they lost, they will probably
    continue to blame their neighbour. Persuading people out of their feelings will
    be tricky to achieve, especially if many people never actually had job security
    or a bright future, a static sense of identity, or whatever they feel is lost.
    What they’ve lost may have been mostly a fantasy, but they want it back. Maybe
    we should be building some new dreams for the future, and ignoring this so called debate.

  • PoundInYourPocket

    Keep up the good work Sohail. The uncomforatble truth is that during any econommic downturn people look for scapegoats, this time it’s EU migrants , but it could be anyone. The EU is in for a rocky time as they don’t have a solution to their economic troubles. We are going to face more economic woes, hence expect increased victimisation of immigrants. We need to keep an eye on this issue and not let victimisation slide into racism. Just because we all get poorer as the economy tanks, it’s no reason to start beating up on the neighbours. Labour need to hold the line and keep out of the Sun. If you need to vent your anger, vent it on the politicians not the immigrants trying to make a living in hard times.


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