Monday, November 14, 2005

"Migration Watch" may lead to softening of the brain

Last week I attended the relunch of the Centre for Reform- now known as Centre Forum. I have never been happy regarding myself, or being regarded, as "of the centre". I was still less enamoured of Adair Turner's words on Immigration during his keynote speech. After listening to Migration Watch drivel on the Today Programme a couple of weeks ago, I have come to the conclusion that those "expressing concern" about immigration either can not count or have another agenda. Milord Turner should stop reading Migration Watch and their dodgy numbers.

This supposed immigration "think tank", Migration Watch, tries not to attack immigration from the New European Union, but they have a clear agenda, which is opposed to immigration generally. The comments which come from this supposedly independent think tank could have been written by some of the more ill informed bigots on the right of British politics. Research that they publish suggests that the UK acquires new immigrants every year that are equivalent in numbers to a "City the size of Bristol" each year. This is nonsense. There is considerable churn in numbers- for example, after substantial growth in the number of Poles working in the UK over the past five years, the Polish Embassy now believes that the total number of Poles in the UK is now fairly stable, though turnover is considerable. The Migration Watch numbers fail to recognize people as they leave as well as when they enter the UK. Given the large number of British Citizens who are emigrating from the UK, if you believe the Migration Watch numbers, there would be more than a quarter of the British population that would be foreign born. In fact the number is 7% and has been stable for some time.

Implicit in the ideas of "Migration Watch" is that immigration subtracts from our national wealth: many people migrate simply to gain benefits from the British welfare system. Yet, for example: of all the many thousand EU-10 individuals who have registered to work in the UK since 2004, the total number of those who have applied for British benefits is a few hundred, and the number of those whose claims have been allowed is under 50. There is no benefits drain- a pure fiction.The next idea that anti-immigration campaigners come up with is that "they take our jobs". At a time of near full employment, this is a claim that is pretty hard to justify, but the point is that enterprises can usually only pay workers who add value to their operations. Taking a couple of extreme examples: A Lithuanian Investment Banker might develop proprietary structures for his bank worth millions, he or she will be very well paid, but will pay large amounts of Tax and NI to the UK exchequer as well as spending considerable sums in the UK economy. Another example: even an illegal Hungarian cash paid building worker adds substantial value to their employer- and thus to the UK economy. The benefit may not come directly though income tax payments, but it comes from the fact that the construction activity boosts our economy, and the money that even building workers need to spend to live also benefits our economy. The most mainstream example might be the Slovak student who works in Starbucks. Although not very well paid by British standards, the student can save enough to complete his or her studies upon their return to their home country. Thus most immigration is win-win. The Student gets to save more money and experience in an English language culture. The home country gets a transfer of money- and the UK gets the benefits of the worker- usually including tax benefits while they are in our country- and you and I get better banking services, cheaper construction or even a marginally cheaper cup of coffee served by someone with smile who is not afraid of hard work.Of course, Migration Watch will say, we are not opposed to legal EU migration- but the fact is that we get benefits from workers no matter where they come from: Australia, India, Morocco or Albania- presumably the countries that Migration watch is most concerned about. Yet, the numbers of workers entering from these countries are broadly stable or even falling. Migration Watch has compromised its integrity by failing to understand economics and distorting the numbers to serve a political point.After the most disgraceful campaign on immigration that the Conservatives fought in 2004, it is pretty easy to detect "His Master's Voice" in their spurious numbers.

Immigration is a sign of British Success and it is in fact a vital component of British success- After all, my sister, while she lived in Paris for a few years, could find no plumber at all, especially not a high quality Polish one. So, while many think tanks add to the quality of political debate, it would be wise to put a government health warning on some numbers: "Distortions and misleading facts may impair political judgement and cause ill informed voting" or "Migration Watch serves Tory Propaganda and may damage your intelligence".

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