The major point of contention for the candidates standing for election in the European Parliament in the UK has been immigration: specifically, the open border policy under which the country operates, cooperating with the Schengen Zone.
Proponents of the policy argue that migrants are, on average, beneficial to the British economy. Opponents in favour of limiting migration – namely UKIP – claim that the influx of European migrants has been detrimental to the UK’s financial performance.
UKIP assertions that EU migrants, specifically Eastern European workers, are ‘after British jobs’ can be heard across the breadth of the country, encompassing nearly all ages and genders. But is there truth in these claims? Or is it merely a cacophony of xenophobic, sensationalist tripe, advanced by a man as hypocritical as he is unlikely to achieve a Westminster-based political office?
I fear my tone may have already imparted my conclusion.
But an argument is not compelling without evidence. I will attempt to address a number of the issues raised in the UKIP campaign for the European elections.
26 million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?
This poster, accompanied by a Kitchener-esque finger point, compels the observer to accept that there are 26 million people wanting jobs that are the natural born right of good old British workers. It craftily singles out the individual with a protruding digit and binds us all together in a patriotic haze, rallying us around the flag against a dystopian future of unemployment. We must unite in the face of this abhorrent threat to our livelihoods!
No. A simple look at statistics published by the EU, the Centre for European Reform and the Office for National Statistics indicate that yes, 26 million people in Europe are looking for work, but only 2.4 million of them are residing in the UK. This figure, of course, includes British nationals and not just EU migrants. How many of these people are EU migrants?
A story printed by the Sunday Telegraph claimed that there were 600,000 jobless EU migrants in the UK. The story has since been rebuked as a “a gross and totally irresponsible misrepresentation of the facts” by the European Commission: the organisation which completed the investigation. The figure of 600,000 accounts for the elderly, students and other groups which fall under the banner of ‘economically inactive’. The fact of the matter is that the number of migrants seeking jobs in Britain is actually 168,000; not 26 million.
Of five studies carried out by a variety of economists between the years of 2005 and 2012, four found that an increase in migrant jobseekers did not increase native unemployment to a statistically significant degree. One claimed that for every percentage point increase in migrant workers, there was a 0.09% increase in native unemployment – negligible at best.
Further to this, EU migrants fall broadly into two categories; Skilled Western Europeans and Unskilled/Semi-Skilled Eastern Europeans. It is worth noting that the members of the latter group often fulfil vocations which are considered dirty, dangerous or demanding (DDD), frequently for minimum wage – jobs which your average British worker would not go near.
They are a drain on the economy, specifically on the NHS.
This line, paraphrased from UKIP’s European election manifesto, is in flagrant disregard of the facts.
The average migrant worker in the UK is beneficial to the UK’s economy. The Skilled Western European migrants boost profitability in British companies, bringing ‘knowledge and technical expertise that allows British workers to become more productive’. A higher proportion of Western European migrants own their own businesses than UK natives and as such are contributing significantly to the economy.
Due to their skill and education levels, Western European migrants fill senior positions and command significant salaries, contributing to the resultant tax revenue and filling gaps that ‘are in short supply in the domestic labour market’.
Furthermore, in economic jargon the British economy has hollowed out. This means that job creation tends to occur at the top and bottom extremes of skill level.
Eastern European migrants are filling the positions that the labour market requires them to. Many of them are educated to a much higher level than their occupations would suggest, but they are willing to undertake less skilled work for relatively higher wages compared to their country of origin. The British economy benefits from this through labour shortages being remedied, which would otherwise undermine it.
The claim that migration causes a strain on the NHS is almost valid. Of course an increased population will stretch resources. However, the treatment an EU migrant receives by virtue of the NHS is identical to the service UK nationals receive in Europe with an EHIC. That British people choose not to regularly enjoy this privilege is not the fault of the migrants. In addition, recent statistics say that 11% of all NHS employees and 26% of doctors are non-British. With these migrants, the system just about works. Without them, it would fall into crisis.
The ‘migration card’ is a very easy one to play. It takes advantage of vulnerable, unemployed people and gives them a scapegoat upon which to blame their misfortune. There are many reasons why people are out of work; an irresponsible benefits system, a poorly structured education system and a lack of social support to name but a few. But immigration is not one of them. Without European migration, our economy could be worse than it is now. Seriously.