Migrants’ Rights Network: Is the penny finally dropping? – Migration is a sign of how normal a society is, rather than a threat to its existence

by , under Don Flynn

Don Flynn*


The fact that the government failed to reach its target for reducing net migration is bad news for them, but rather good news when considered as an indication of an economy not still mired in deepest recession.

Näyttökuva 2015-3-2 kello 21.17.09


Read full blog entry here.

How does a government deal with bad news that isn’t really such bad news?

That was the dilemma facing the spokespeople of the coalition parties last Thursday when they confronted the fact that the declared objective of driving net immigration down below the 100,000 a year mark had failed not just badly, but spectacularly badly.

The ONS statistics revealed a headline figure showing that there were 298,000 more people in the UK in September 2014 that there had been 12 months previously.  There will be no more figures on this subject to argue over between polling day so the very firm conclusion is that prime minister David Cameron has failed to deliver on his famous ‘no ifs, no buts’ pledge.

In a televised interview immigration minister James Brokenshire put the blame on EU migration and stated that the government needed to do more to roll back on the right of people to move freely within the area of the single market.

His comment ignored that fact that even it net migration from the EU countries had been zero the 190,000 extra non-EU nationals who came to live in the UK during that year would be more than sufficient to blow the government’s target out the water.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, expressing the views of this Liberal Democrat party, showed no inclination to offer excuses for the government’s failure.  He told LBC Radio that the figures were “very embarrassing for the Conservatives”.

“They made a huge fanfare about it and they were warned, warned by me and others privately don’t do this it doesn’t make any sense”.

Labour’s home affairs spokesperson, Yvette Cooper sought to increase the government’s discomfort with the claim that trust had been undermined by the failure to keep the promise.  In an interview with the BBC she said it was a mistake to have focused on net migration when the need was to strengthen border controls to tackle what she called ‘illegal migration’ which she claimed was getting worse.

Economc growth

But the real context for understanding the failure to deliver stated targets was provided by expert commentators who drew attention to the fact that migration in recent times had been driven by the better performance of the UK in comparison to other countries in the European region.  The director of the Oxford University-based Migration Observatory, Madeleine Sumption was quoted on the BBC News website as saying: “If the UK’s economic performance compared to the rest of the EU had been poor, then we might well have seen net migration fall, but that has not happened.”

This claim is supported by data which shows that the spurt in job creation in the UK economy during the period of the coalition government has led to an extra 4 million jobs coming into existence.  In the 12 months up to December 2014 nearly 375,000 of the jobs created in that period went to British citizens, with a further 270,000 going to nationals of the other EU countries.

The end of February also saw a spate of reports from researchers which provided more evidence on the relationship between economic performance and migration.  The Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE published an election analysis dealing with the subject of immigration and the UK labour market.  The following points were listed under its headline findings;

  • Immigrants are better educated and younger than their UK-born counterparts, especially those from the EU15 (the members before the 2004 EU enlargement). Around 10% of all migrants are students. Immigrants are over-represented in the very high-skilled and very low-skilled occupations.
  • Almost 40% of all immigrants live in London and 37% of Londoners were born abroad. Around 60% of the working age populations of Brent and Westminster are immigrants compared with under 3% in Knowsley and Redcar & Cleveland.
  •  Immigrants do not account for a majority of new jobs. The immigrant share in new jobs is – and always has been – broadly the same as the share of immigrants in the working age population.
  • There is still no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, wages, housing or the crowding out of public services. Any negative impacts on wages of less skilled groups are small. One of the largest impacts of immigration seems to be on public perceptions.

Another piece of interesting research, heavily featured in the Daily Telegraph, was published by the Institute of Education at University College London.  The research looked at the emigration of skilled people from the UK during the period since 1964 and 2011 and found that one in ten of this group had left the UK during this time – a total of 684,000 people.  The paper’s headline – Britain’s brightest leaving in brain drain and replaced with low skilled migrants – clearly implied that migration was degrading the skill base of the UK labour force.

In fact, as the economics commentator Frances Coppola pointed out in a critical review of the Telegraph’s coverage of this item for the Pieria website, the headline elided over the point made in the article itself that the skilled portion of the emigrant group had been replaced by an almost equal number of people with higher education standard qualifications, predominantly from Europe and South Asia. The conclusion, Coppola argues is clear:  there is no ‘brain drain” outwards from the UK as long as immigration policy remains open to inward movements.

Coppola also goes on to make a number of very interesting points about the way the tests for numeracy skills had been conducted for the UCL research, suggesting that since half the sample group had professional qualifications or bachelor degrees it had probably overestimated the standards of experience and education of people deemed largely unskilled.

It’s the ‘new normal’ folks

This is all evidence that largely supports a perspective on immigration that MRN and others on our side of the debate have been setting out for the best part of the last decade.  Immigration happens because labour markets extend beyond national frontiers. The allocation of skill and other resources to the places which can make most effective use of the productivity of workers happens best in conditions of that come closest to free movement.

This is what we have been observing in the UK for many years now, and the fact that the economy in 2015 is registering both jobs growth and some, though much-belated recovery in average wages levels whilst immigration has remained high, flatly contradicts the claims of the nay-sayers who strive to cast the most negative light on the movement of people.

So, we are moving into the next stage of a long-drawn election campaign with solid evidence behind us that high levels of net inward migration is part of the ‘new normal’ of the 21st century.  Of course this leaves a great deal of room for policy initiatives which improve the capacity of the movement of people to promote welfare, eradicate poverty and support development, as well as lively debate on the measures needed to relieve congested neighbourhoods and improve public service provision.  But this ought not to be a discussion which drags us back to the feet of the golden calves of tightontrol and stronger enforcement action where such a large segment of the political mainstream seem to sit in permanent worship.

Main media coverage with MRN quote from a list of 197 hits:

Read original posting here.

This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.

*Don Flynn, the MRN Director, leads the organisation’s strategic development and coordinates MRN’s policy and project work. He is a regular and sought-after speaker at conferences, seminars and lectures on behalf of MRN.