It times of economic turmoil it is common to direct venom at others. And immigrants are an easy target. This was a feature of the 1930s and the 1970s in the UK – with immigrants being ‘blamed’ for taking ‘our’ jobs as well as claiming benefits- the fact that these were usually impossible together is usually ignored. And this intolerance is rearing its ugly head again. Of course, immigration is an important issue that needs sensible debate. But too frequently it reduced to sound-bites from vested interests.
Whenever the topic of immigration is on the agenda, the BBC turns to Nicholas Farage.Take his contribution on Newsnight on 25 March, when told that immigration had not depressed wages in the UK, he retorted: “absolute rubbish… I have just been in a pub full of plasterers, decorators and carpenters.” Good for him to have been to the pub. But not necessarily a robust sample of employed workers in the UK. Especially in a Suffolk pub at 10.30 in the evening.
There is even more incoherent nonsense from one of the Daily Mail’s merchant of bile, Richard Littlejohn , in his ‘article’ on 25 March, ‘Keep ’em out, Dave? They’re already here!’
According to Littlejohn: ‘From across North London came reports of Romanians moving into homes while the owners were away….. And if Romanians make up half of all squatters, they also seem to comprise at least 50 per cent of all the beggars in central London these days. Presumably they return to their suburban squats of an evening.” Of course, none of this litany of hate is polluted by evidence.
Litteljohn goes on: ‘Now even the Left is, sort of, admitting it got it wrong….In the Daily Mail over the past few days, David Goodhart, director of the Left-wing think-tank Demos, has written an extended mea culpa’. Has he? So what? Some of the so called ‘Left’ follow a wayward path to confusion and distortion. For instance, the right wing think tank, The Institute of Economic Affairs, used to be populated by dazed and confused ex-Marxists.
A Littlejohn mini-me at the Daily Express, Ross Clark, also resorts to unsubstantiated vitriol. According to Clark: “What does rile the public, on the other hand, is when migrants arrive in Britain one day, and the next day they have been installed in a substantial West London villa, courtesy of thousands of pounds a year of taxpayers’ money, and when they are on a waiting list for NHS treatment behind people who have never lived in Britain nor paid towards the NHS. No Briton ever took a Eurostar to Paris in the expectation that they would immediately be put up in a grand apartment on the Champs Elysees courtesy of French taxpayers.” What should rile the public is being fed such lies.
Clark even argues: ‘Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research was wheeled on to say that migrants claiming benefits were a ‘minuscule’ problem and that the real challenge to the public finances is elderly British people with the temerity to claim the pensions they have paid for all their lives.’ Almost certainly Portes did not use this language – and as far as I am aware he is not wheels. Portes has undertaken detailed and rigorous analysis of the impact of immigration – see here. And Clark does not have the guts or the intellect to engage with the evidence.
Assessing the impact of immigration is difficult – but that does not justify the scaremongering tactics of some of the press and pressure groups. There is strong evidence of some of the impacts. First, immigration helps to reduce the pressure on the public finances as they pay more taxes as they are less likely to claim benefits and are more likely to pay more taxes than the average citizen (see here and here). Second, immigration contributes to economic growth when measures in terms of GDP. When focus is put on GDP per capita, or GDP per capita of the non-immigrant population, the evidence is more fuzzy. But this is largely a product of the limitations of macroeconomic modelling. Economic growth (per capita) is driven by new ideas – and the most innovative places, such as Silicon Valley, attract talent from around the globe. Third, the United Kingdom is a country built on immigration throughout its history. And even if we focus on more recent times: those that care for us in illness may come from the Philippines but we should remember that we imported our Royal Family from Germany.