These Migrant Figures Are Good for Our Economy; the Tories' Stringent Target for Net Migration Could Damage London's and Britain's Prosperity

The Evening Standard (London, England), March 3, 2014 | Go to article overview

These Migrant Figures Are Good for Our Economy; the Tories' Stringent Target for Net Migration Could Damage London's and Britain's Prosperity


Byline: Vince Cable Business Secretary

LONDON illustrates the broadly positive impact of immigration on Britain. Thirty-four per cent of the city's population is foreign- born.

In the capital, successive waves of migrants have provoked a negative reaction before being absorbed. Freed slaves, Huguenots and Asian seamen in the Port of London. Jewish refugees from the pogroms of Tsarist Russia. Irish construction workers. Black Caribbeans who manned the buses and the NHS. Sikhs in Southall. Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets. Asians fleeing Kenya and Uganda. Then, in the 1990s, refugees from the Balkans. Latterly, Polish and Lithuanian workers following EU accession (and French tax refugees). Perhaps Ukrainians next? The immigration debate has seen a subtle shift from arguments about race to arguments about net migration of (mainly white) Europeans. In fact, racism is in welcome retreat. Mixed marriages are now commonplace. The population of white British people who would "mind a lot" about having black boss has fallen from almost 30 per cent three decades ago to under 10 per cent. That figure is still 10 per cent too high, but it shows attitudes are changing.

As for net migration, until recently the number of immigrants roughly balanced the number of emigrants. In the 1960s and 1970s, when immigration was an especially toxic issue, net immigration was actually negative: more people left than arrived. But they had a different complexion. The anti-immigration backlash, captured most notoriously in Enoch Powell's speeches, was essentially about colour and culture.

In the past decade and a half, however, net immigration has averaged about 200,000 per annum. New arrivals from Eastern Europe are not conspicuous in the streets. But the rising numbers have added to anxieties about housing, public services, jobs and welfare benefits. No politician could possibly be unaware of public concern. After five years of economic hardship, people are feeling insecure.

Politicians should start by sticking to the facts. The proportion of foreign nationals in our population from immigration this century is actually lower than in Germany, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland. Roughly two million Brits reside on the Continent, about the same as continental Europeans living here: one of the liberating achievements of the EU.

In the decade since 2001, recent migrants from the EU paid in 34 per cent more tax than they took out in benefits and services. Far from being a mass of unskilled people, a third of European immigrants and 43 per cent of non-European migrants have university degrees, compared with 21 per cent of British adults. And overseas students make up around 17 per cent of the student population of 2.5million and contribute PS9 billion to the UK economy making them one of our leading exports.

The evidence is that, overall, immigrant workers do not displace British workers. Last year 90 per cent of new jobs almost 400,000 went to British workers, despite rising immigration. During the recession, youth unemployment which is a genuinely worrying problem grew faster in areas with lower immigration rates. …

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