Jonathan Portes talks to SRtRC about emigration from the UK, the county's systems and the local impact of immigration.
"It is good for Britain that people want to come here to work and it is good for British people as individuals that we can go and live and work somewhere else if we want to."
Jonathan Portes, Director, The National Institute for Economic & Social Research
Over the last twelve to eighteen months, Show Racism the Red Card has seen an increase in anti-immigration sentiment among young people during our work in schools. In response to this and scaremongering around immigration from certain sections of the media, SRtRC spoke to Jonathan Portes, Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) about some of the economic and social impacts of immigration to the UK.
In the final part of this interview, Jonathan talks to SRtRC about emigration from the UK, the county's systems and the local impact of immigration.
Immigration is a two way process and many British citizens have chosen to move abroad. The stereotype is that all British migrants are retired, are not economic migrants and cause a ‘drain’ on the services of their new country of residence – do you have any evidence or support or contradict this?
"Unfortunately, the data on this is quite sketchy and there are quite widely different estimates for the number of Britons who are living elsewhere within the European Union."
"It is clear that there are a large number of British people living in countries like Spain who have retired and so they will have a more negative impact on the Spanish health service, however it is worth remembering that many of them will have pensions; both state and occupational pensions which they receive from the British Government and from their former employers in the UK so they are also bringing money into the Spanish economy."
I think the view with regards to this will be similar to certain perceptions about Polish migrants in the UK. On the whole however, I think the view of the Spanish government is that migration from the UK is good for the economy and good for the country.
Much of your research focuses on the economic impact of immigration to the UK, but have you any data about the impact of people from the UK emigrating to other counties in Europe?
"Clearly, European immigration is something different in the sense that it is part of a wider issue which is that we are a member of the European Union and the European Union was founded on the basis of four key principles; free movement of goods, services, capital and labour. These are the basic rules of the club; that people should be more or less able to move around from country to country, from the UK to Bulgaria, or France to the UK or Germany to Spain – that is how it is supposed to work. There are some notable restrictions and waiting periods for newer members of the EU to contend with but by and large this is the model."
"There are significant flows of people around the European Union in search of opportunity, in search of jobs or just because they want to see what it is like to live somewhere else and most analysis that has been carried out suggests that this has been beneficial for the UK and to the other countries within the EU."
"It is good for Britain that people want to come here to work and it is good for British people as individuals that we can go and live and work somewhere else if we want to. The same is true for citizens of other counties."
"Of course, there are some problems and issues associated with people moving around; there always are, but on the whole the evidence suggests that the process has been beneficial. Unfortunately, it is impossible to look at European immigration separately from all of the other issues surrounding membership of the EU, whether those are political or economic. Things are different when we look at immigration outside of the EU because there we can set the rules to a certain extent so we have quite different systems for people coming from outside of the EU."
"We have the asylum system for people coming here because they are fleeing persecution and we have students who come here temporarily to study. We have a system which enables skilled workers to come to the UK provided that they have a job offer and a company wants to employ them and we have the family migration system which allows people who have family connections to British citizens, particular those people who are married to British citizens which enables them to come here."
"These systems are quite different from the ‘free movement’ or ‘mobility’ systems that control European migration."
Immigration impacts the UK in different ways geographically. What are your views on the impact of immigration on London, which has high levels of immigration, high wages and also has high house prices?
"London has enjoyed an incredible economic revival over the last 30 years or so. People often forget what things were like; I moved to London as a child with my parents in the early seventies and during that time, inner London actually lost 20% of its population."
"It is amazing to think about now, that London was suffering from a population collapse. The same thing was happening in New York – this was not a UK specific phenomenon. People thought that London and New York were dying, they were going the way of Detroit; they were depopulating and crime was rising."
"Then something happened in the late seventies, both in London and in New York. It wasn’t solely down to immigration, it was globalisation, financial development and lots of other economic forces but obviously immigration was a big part of the process and ever since then cities like London and New York have been on the up and up; economically, socially and in terms of population growth and immigration has played a huge role in that."
"London now has a big problem with rising house prices and not enough affordable accommodation and immigration has played a part in this, it would be foolish to deny it."
"There are two things to say here. First of all, this is a problem of success for London. Overcrowding on the Tube is also a problem of success and these things need to be dealt with which can be difficult. The issue of affordable housing needs to be tackled and it isn’t easy, but it is a lot easier to tackle problems of success than it is to tackle problems of failure."
"The problems that, say, Detroit has of collapsing population, falling tax base and so on are much more difficult to tackle. London does have problems, but they are problems that lots of other cities would envy."
"It is clear that the economy of the UK is unbalanced; it is overly dependant on London and the fact that many immigrants, especially highly skilled immigrants come here is both a symptom and a cause of this. This is not something that can be sorted out through changes to immigration policy; it needs to be challenged through amendments to a wide variety of policies."
"About half of all immigrants who come to the UK come to London, with the other half dispersed across the country and over time, many immigrants to spread out and away from London and if you take the example of Eastern European migration has been somewhat more spread than previous examples of immigration, although it is still concentrated in London and the South East."
"One of the interesting things about Eastern European immigration is that it has affected areas which had previously seen very little immigration. Boston in Lincolnshire is one of the more well known examples because it has arguable received more Eastern European migrants than anywhere else in the country where as prior to 2004 it was probably one of the least affected communities. So there are places that have seen quite a sharp change and that has been quite noticeable."
We have seen immigrants targeted as result of issues with systems in this country; language testing for international students and backlogs within the passport office being two examples. Why do you think that such examples lead to individuals becoming scapegoats rather than a wider criticism of the systems?
"I think to a certain extent that is human nature. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people and hugely complex systems and bureaucracies, and at a time in which the government, for all sorts of other reasons, is trying to cut public spending there is a lot of pressure on civil servants and things go wrong."
"That is what happened in the passport office and that is probably what happened with language testing for students; just not enough resources to administer the system properly."
"In that regard it is not dissimilar to what is happening in the benefits system at the same time; there is administrative chaos in the disability benefits system and this is another area that I have quite a lot of interest in. Obviously, that has nothing to do with immigration but is to do with the pressure of trying to deliver public services to hundreds of thousands of people with less money and fewer resources; it is inevitable that things go wrong."