After the economy, immigration is probably the biggest issue in British politics. According to polls on issues it is the only one besides the economy that regularly gets double digits in terms of people’s priorities. However, despite this it is a topic that gets scandalously little attention, and when it does the level of debate is often rather lacking, if very passionate. To that end here are 6 Facts that everyone who wants to have an honest debate on immigration need to know.
1) Britain isn’t overcrowded or even near full
Only 1.5% of Britain counts as developed. There is 8.5 times much as woodland in Britain as there is development. England with its many busy cities has 2.27% of land classed as built on, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have less than 1% of their land developed. Over 78% of Urban Land isn’t developed or built on meaning the number of buildings in the UK could over double without any Urban sprawl or change to non-Urban areas. Simply put, Britain is nowhere near full, in fact we have acres and acres of space. This isn’t unique to the UK, the entire world population could fit into the State of Texas. England’s green and pleasant lands are not at threat from immigration, not even close.
2) Immigration is not the main driver of population growth
For those that are worried by population growth, it is births, not immigration that should be of main concern. In 2011-12 there were 254,400 more births than deaths while net immigration was 165,600. According to Migration Watch 75% of those births were to UK born mothers meaning that around 190,000 births were from ‘British’ mothers, still significantly higher than the net immigration level. Even if net migration was zero, Britain’s population would still be growing, indeed it would be growing faster than if net migration stayed as it is and births minus deaths equalled zero. With the amount of space we have it is questionable if we have a population crisis at all, but if we do it is birth based, not immigrant based.
3) Immigrants affect House Prices, but not how you think.
Housing makes up the bulk of any ‘cost of living crisis’ far more so than energy prices or any other areas politicians seem to focus on. Immigration naturally affects house prices, but instead of pushing them up to unaffordable levels as many seem to fear research from the Universities of Newcastle and Cambridge shows that immigrants actually push house prices down and make them more affordable.
4) Immigrants don’t take our jobs.
One of the biggest gripes with immigrants is that they take jobs and put Britons out of work. However good this line of argument sounds, unfortunately the facts don’t back it up. Ryan Bourne of the CPS took a look at the figures and found that ‘the evidence suggests little overall effect on unemployment or pay’. Much of the mistaken belief that immigrants take or steal jobs come from the ‘Lump of Labour fallacy’: the mistaken belief that there is a fixed number of jobs that we are all competing for. Furthermore, immigrants often come over and take highly skilled jobs in areas where there is a shortage of domestic expertise; The Telegraph reports that up to 20% of British skilled jobs now being taken by immigrants. Whatever criticisms you may have of immigrants, evidence points to them having little to no overall impact on domestic unemployment or domestic pay. They don’t force down wages and they don’t take jobs.
5) Immigration is the same as Free Trade
Bizarrely there are many who argue against immigration but are first in line to argue for the benefits of free trade, without seeming to realise that they are, for all intents and purposes, the same thing. What is the difference between 100 Frenchmen coming to Britain, building cars in a factory then selling them to Brits, and 100 Frenchmen building cars in a factory in France and selling them to Brits? The same number of cars are made and sold, the same number of jobs are taken by non-British workers – it is simply the location of the building that is different. If you believe that immigrants take British jobs then you have to believe that free trade agreements take just as many jobs.
6) Immigrants are net tax benefits
Aside from taking British jobs, another core (misplaced) criticism of immigrants is that they cost Britain too much, or that they take our benefits. Yet again however, empirical evidence shows that this commonly held belief is incorrect. Immigrants are net tax benefits, and on average they pay more in tax than the average Brit and take less in benefits and services. In fact if you wanted to lower Britain’s debt and deficit one of the best ways you could help would be to let in more immigrants. They more than pay for themselves, with Eastern EU migrants especially being one of the biggest groups of net tax benefits to the UK.
The debate on immigration in Britain is one that needs to be had, and hopefully when the much demanded ‘honest debate’ on immigration is had, the actual facts, rather than the (often untrue) fears presented as fact can be heard. It is time we debated immigration based on fact, not on fiction.