THE BLOG

Politicians Must Play Fair on Immigration

11/03/2014 15:43 GMT | Updated 11/05/2014 10:59 BST

Let's be totally blunt about this; the formation of the Con-Dem coalition government in 2010 completely changed the political context of the immigration debate when they made one of their primary policies to reduce net migration by "tens of thousands" per year.

For many years before then, Labour had opened the borders of Britain to, in the opinion of many, too many immigrants - particularly from Eastern Europe. It wouldn't be ridiculous to suggest that they actually lost control of the borders during their time in government when you look at immigration figures from then.

Many valid concerns were raised as a result of this. The increased number of citizens in Britain has undoubtedly put a huge strain on public services and has also contributed to the housing crisis in which we now find ourselves engulfed. But there is one accusation that has been thrown at immigrants to this country, more than any other, that really irks me - which is that they travel here to exploit the welfare state and indulge in what has become commonly known as "benefits tourism". This is something that UKIP leader Nigel Farage in particular has been quick to use as ammunition to criticise immigrants and gain support for his party in the process.

I personally find that particular accusation laughable.

Whilst there is absolutely no doubt that immigrants to the UK come here to increase their standard of living, this isn't done through exploiting the benefits system. In fact, a recent study carried out by the University College London's (UCL) migration research unit found the exact opposite. The findings from the study showed that immigrants arriving in the UK since the year 2000 have been less likely to receive benefits that those who already live in the country.

Furthermore, the study found that immigrants from the European Economic Area countries participated more in the labour market than immigrants from elsewhere, and that they paid on average 34% more in taxes than they received in benefits from 2001-2011.

Does this mean that "benefits tourism" doesn't exist? No, but it does mean that the problem is greatly exaggerated.

The UCL's migration research unit also argues, from its findings, that new arrivals in Britain have made a contribution of £25bn to public finances. This may be true, but the additional costs of running the NHS and providing housing for a larger population probably evens out that contribution.

What does all of this really mean in terms of the political debate about immigration that is currently raging on and will play a key part in the 2015 general election? Simply that is must be more balanced.

Ridiculous claims regarding "benefits tourism" must end now. If any politician wishes to mention immigrants who exploit the welfare system, they must also mention the millions who contribute to it regularly. If claims are to be made regarding the economic input of immigrants, we must also face up to the rising costs of supporting an increased population. Having a fair argument may seem like an absurd notion to many politicians, but if that does not happen during the immigration debate, then they should expect increased tensions between UK natives and immigrants.

Social cohesion cannot be achieved with one-sided arguments. We are angering hard-working immigrants when we accuse them of exploiting our welfare state, just as Labour angered many UK natives by allowing so many immigrants in to the country based solely on economic benefits. How can people from different cultural backgrounds be expected to integrate successfully when we have politicians that seem hell-bent on driving a wedge between us?

Let us welcome our friendly, hard-working brothers and sisters from Eastern Europe and further abroad, but at the same time realise that the current rate of population growth cannot be sustained. Believe it or not, it is possible to do both at the same time.

This blog is part of the Open Generation platform run by Migrants Rights Network. The platform aims to give a voice to under 30s on the issues of immigration and EU free movement. Find out more here: www.opengeneration.org.uk or follow us @opengeneration