THE BLOG

A New Year's Resolution Suggestion - The Truth on Immigration (Warning: Contains Links to Actual Research)

02/01/2014 14:48 GMT | Updated 04/03/2014 10:59 GMT

This year, it is my sincere hope that at least one politician makes the resolution to talk some truth and sense on immigration.

Never has this been a more necessary step than now, as Bulgarian and Romanian workers have seen curbs lifted, permitting them to live and work in the UK without restriction. This has given rise to the usual flood of adverse comment surrounding immigration in the media.

Negative rhetoric can start as a cheap way of wooing a particular voter demographic or selling newspapers. Left unchecked it can permeate into the public conscious as received wisdom and over time create a more hostile environment for immigration, a social problem that nobody should want. I think it is time a leading politician stands up and promotes the contribution that immigrants are making, and have always made, to the economy and society as a whole.

For some time now UK politicians have been 'talking tough' on immigration. Prime Minister David Cameron's recent comments about Polish immigration that took place from 2004 onwards attracted plenty of attention, with even some of it negative and from within his own party.

The Labour Party, it seems, are now intent on following a similar strategy. Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Education Secretary recently expressed his concerns about a potential influx of eastern European workers and the impact it would have on attainment for white boys. His cited basis for this opinion? A conversation with a 16-year-old male in Hunt's constituency of Stoke-on-Trent. Where is the research?

Why so keen to do down immigrants whilst presenting no real evidence as to why? Many commentators in the media would point to recent favourable polling and vote share gains for UKIP as a reason why politicians from the two biggest parties are keen to sound harsher on immigration.

Is it sections of the media that are creating this apparent consensus between mainstream politicians? The Daily Mail has been no stranger to articles warning about immigrants. Why not practice spotting unsupported and unsubstantiated sensationalism using this article from the Daily Mail? I challenge any reader to find any non-anecdotal analysis within it. It is especially strange to read as research commissioned by the Foreign Office suggests that there will be very little flow from Romania and Bulgaria whatsoever.

Perhaps most alarmingly in this debate the anti-immigration lobby are rarely backed up by genuine research, just poorly concocted statistics, easily reversed percentages or sensationalised tabloid speculation. I had no real opinion on this debate until recently when upon closer inspection it became obvious that the anti-immigration lobby back their arguments with little but hearsay.

Recent research by the OECD has demonstrated that immigrants from around the world are highly likely to find employment and pay taxes. The Office for National Statistics reports that only 1.7% of immigrants in the UK speak no English at all.

But wait! Are they not a strain on public services? It would appear not. Research from the Department from Work and Pensions demonstrates that, in proportion to native-born Britons, immigrants are less likely to be claiming Job Seekers Allowance as well as other benefits. Immigrants are likely to be younger with the average age of those arriving from the 2004 accession countries in the first 5 years being 25. That means they are unlikely to have children with them and take up school places and less disposed to falling ill and using the NHS. Social housing is also not a problem with research from University College London demonstrating that immigrants are less likely to require this accommodation and tend more towards private landlords.

Yes, but immigrants are trouble-makers aren't they? Well, no. Crime actually fell in some areas that experienced high levels of immigration from Central and Eastern Europe last time around. The Romanian Ambassador, Ion Jinga has also made credible use of crime statistics to demonstrate that, on current evidence, the arrest rate for Romanians in the UK is half the nationwide average.

So, credible and far-ranging research says that immigrants contribute to the economy, are less likely to use public services and on the whole do not commit as much crime those born in the UK.

As such it is high time for a front bench politician to lead in acknowledging the contribution immigrants make to a country built on immigration. Why not point out that a great deal of the British public are descended from immigrants and that in order to prosper and potentially become Europe's largest economy we need to continue attracting immigrants than view them with statistically disproven mistrust and fear. Winning over the UKIP demographic would be better achieved by fixing the economy and giving mainstream politicians more gravitas, not by simply parroting out a watered down version of their rhetoric or whipping up fear by blaming immigrants for anything.

Few voters, when confronted with facts and concrete research, can still apply the notion that 'immigrants are to blame'.

I will stop short of suggesting any policies or making any predictions on migrant worker numbers. This blog is intended to be a collection of commentaries on research rather than a proposal in an area of politics that currently attracts such a blatant disregard for facts.

The next time any politician starts immigrant bashing why not check to see if they offer anything concrete to back it up with? Giving voters the real truth on this issue might not be popular immediately, but if public figures address voters with informed statistics and positive immigrant case studies, which form the vast majority, then it might not take long for attitudes to change.