A critical analysis of the impacts of EU migration in the UK
In 2004, the European Union (hereafter EU) underwent the biggest expansion since its founding in 1993 (European Parliament, 2003). This involved the inclusion of Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, and Slovakia. Initially transitional restrictions (Euactiv.com, 2004) remained in place before freedom of movement could be granted to citizens of these new member states, and these were lifted in May 2011. Since this Treaty of Accession, migration has affected all countries in the Union. The UK is not atypical and it too has seen changes in migration behaviour, both incoming and outgoing. Figure 1 shows this, with an increase in EU migration vs Non-EU migration to the UK coming in 2003, and then again in 2011 when the transitional restrictions are lifted. Additionally, the number of National Insurance Number registrations to EU nationals in the second quarter of 2016 was 140,530 in total. Of those, 37% were EU14 nationals, 25% A8 nationals, and 38% were A2 and other Accession nationals (Vargas-Silva and Markaki, 2016). This has also undoubtedly had an impact on the UK, and many sources from a variety of time periods since 2004 consider this. To look at the impact, it is beneficial to categorise affects into 4 groups; economic, social, political and environmental.
Taking the economic impact first, there is evidence for a positive impact of EU migration on the UK. Sources indicate that EU migrants (particularly those arriving since 2000) have made an overall positive fiscal contribution, even during budget deficit periods (Dustmann and Frattini, 2013) and that since most migrants are of working age (increasing the working age population by 6.5% and the over-65 population by only 3.4%) immigration reduces the old-age dependency ratio in the UK (UK Office for Budget Responsibility, 2015). Research also shows that immigrants do not, as is often perceived, take most new jobs from the native population in the UK, and that the job share is the same as immigrants in the working age population (Wadsworth, 2015). Additionally, work down shows that immigration (specifically EU A8 migration) increases “supply” over demand, eases inflationary pressures and lowers the unemployment rate overall (Blanchflower, Saleheen and Shadforth, 2007). Statistics are varied, although Dustmann and Franttini quantify EEA (European Economic Area) migrants as contributing 4% more to the UK’s fiscal system than they received in transfers and benefits (Dustmann and Frattini, 2013). Although there is this large basis of positive research, some debate that immigration has had a negative impact on the economy. While much of this debate is in the public perception (Wadsworth, 2015) a study from the Bank of England published in 2015 suggests that immigration can have a “significant, small” impact on average occupational wages in a localised region (Nickell and Saleheen, 2015). This paper goes on to note the biggest effect is in the semi/unskilled services sector, where a 10% rise in immigrant proportion has caused a 2% reduction in pay. However, the figures here show that the impact is very minimal for a comparatively large increase in immigration. My overall synthesis of the material leads me to the opinion that immigration has had a positive economic impact on the UK. However, it is important to bear in mind the changing nature of migration and the long-term impact means that even the most recent studies here could be outdated when viewed now. My broad feeling is that immigration does not have as big an economic impact as is conventionally believed.
Closely linked to the economic impact is the social impact of immigration on the UK. One of the most common negative perceptions of immigration is “benefit tourism”, or the idea people move to profit off the UK’s welfare state (Dearden, 2016). Research dispels this rumour, suggesting migrants are 59% less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits as opposed to natives (Dustmann, Fratini and Halls, 2010). This corroborates the economic benefits seen above, as do many studies on the social impact. A report on the overall impact of immigration on the UK again concludes, immigrants consume goods and services, have skills that compliment UK workers, help reduce the deficit and that there is little correlation between UK inequality and migration (Wadsworth et al., 2016). Another perceived social impact of immigration is on crime. Again, research disproves this, noting the wave of migration since 2000 (including that by the accession of the A8 countries) has had no impact on property crime, violent crime or otherwise (Bell, Machin and Fasani, 2010). Although some research has been done suggesting there is no negative impact on social cohesion (Demack et al., 2010) some perceive that the EU migration to the UK has been negative. Statistics show that immigration has had an impact, although small, on UK unemployment and it can be argued that this has fuelled social unrest and discontent (Fic et al., 2017) (migrationwatchuk.org, 2016). Although there is a link between social and economic impacts here, it is important to note that it is perceived negative economic impacts are fuelling discontent in the British public, which is a negative social impact. This can be also be as a result of unequal wage distribution, something also possibly made worse by migration (Migration Advisory Committee, 2010). There is also criticism levelled at the government for failing to ensure integration and long-standing social cohesion (Casey, 2016), which could be the cause of a negative attitude towards immigration, which consequently causes a rise in the opinion that “ethic and civic factors” matter in society (Kiss and Park, 2014). Much like in economics then, there is a high degree of differentiation in the views. This is made more complex by the broad nature of “social impact”, and the ambiguity (and thus variety amongst literature) in terms of defining terms including “cohesion” and “integration”, and how these are measured. I however believe, given the research examined, that immigration has unsettled British society. This is spurred on by media with a clear prerogative (Moore, Mason and Lewis, 2008) when the uncertainty perhaps is not warranted, as much of the literature examined shows. It is either a case of immigration having a positive impact or, as I am more inclined to argue, simply not having the negative effects claimed.
However, the uncertainty about the perceived negative effect has manifested itself very strongly in politics in the UK. It is harder to break down the political impact into positive and negative impacts per se, but a synthesis of the literature shows a large degree of impact of immigration on politics in the UK. It is almost undeniable is that immigration has dramatically altered public discourse and conversation (Kiss and Park, 2014). There has been a degree of toxicity surrounding immigration, as the research in British Social Attitudes shows. This in turn has influenced the political climate in the country. It is suggested by many that a Labour-led government in 2003 grossly underestimated the impact of the accession of the A8 countries to the EU, which negatively impacted their vote share (Somerville, 2015). The Casey review covered earlier is a recent review highlighting the failures of the Conservative government to deal with these large number of migrants too (Casey, 2016). The biggest gainers across the UK political parties have been those on the right-wing. Rises of parties such as the BNP and UKIP in both EU and General Elections has been attributed by many to be as an almost direct result of immigration (Kawalerowicz, 2015). It is my opinion that this rise has dramatically affected the UK political climate. As the right-wing groups became less of pressure or splinter organisations, they pushed for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, which was eventually held and will result in the country leaving the union. There are a huge number of news articles on this topic, and the rise of the right-wing being one of the most likely political impacts of immigration, and this can be seen both inside and outside of the UK (Green, 2017). A broad synthesis of these and the literature reveals immigration as having several long and short term impacts on UK politics. It has become one of the most debated issues both on a public and a private stage. I believe that this has made UK politics more uncertain and that as a result we may feel the effects for many years to come, especially given that migration looks set to continue, and with the UK’s exit from the EU.
The final area of impact, environmental, is also the one where the least research has been conducted. Environmental impact is perhaps a subsection of the social impact of migration. The potential positive impact is summarised in a report for the Migration Advisory Committee (Tsang and Rohr, 2011). The key findings of this are that migrants tend to concentrate in metropolitan areas where public transport provision is good, that migrants rarely use cars as a method of transportation (or if they do it is shared use) and that overall non-UK born migrants travel less, and mainly travel for work. Although this study is not focused exclusively on EU migrants, it paints a picture of immigrant behaviour in the UK that has little impact environmentally. Obviously, the growth in population constitutes a growth in emissions, but if natives as well as migrants were to use public transport as a majority method of transportation, the emissions of the UK would fall dramatically (Sustrans, 2016). However, there are also perceived negative impacts of immigration on the environment, as in all areas examined so far. Migrationwatchuk.org issued a report in 2010 on the environmental impact of migration, noting that the population growth would require urbanisation of countryside areas and that the total increase to the carbon footprint of the UK could be up to 285 million tonnes of carbon. While this organization is not the most reliable, and is highly ideologically motivated, they do use reliable statistical data to make their points (Migration Watch UK, 2010). Some also make the argument that as migrants come to more developed countries, they pick up bad environmental habits, which they then continue or transfer back in their own countries (Scientific American, 2017). This could also be applied to immigrants to Britain. In my opinion, it is hard to decide whether immigration has had a positive or a negative impact on the environment. It is overly simplistic to class immigration and return trips home as “travel” adding to the world’s carbon footprint, however it is also undeniable that this has an impact. The environmental impact of immigration since 2004 in the UK will take time to reveal itself, and I cannot draw a possible conclusion as to the impact without further reliable work into this.
In conclusion, all sources analysed corroborate the large impact that immigration has had on the UK since 2004. Although not all focus on specifically EU migration, taken together they paint a good picture of the impacts, and much of the research is very reliable and academic. Most research has been conducted into the economic impact and this allows, in my opinion, the drawing of a conclusion that immigration has had a positive impact on the UK’s economy. The social impact is particularly hard to measure, and although there is a lot of rhetoric around a perceived negative impact, there has been very little evidence to substantiate much of these claims. The political impact is closely linked to this rhetoric also, with the rise of right-wing movements and criticisms of traditional parties handling of immigration. Environmental impact, much like the political and social impact, is far harder to quantify and analyse. It is hard to pinpoint the impact of a constantly changing phenomenon such as immigration, but I have discovered little hard evidence that it has had a negative impact in any area. If anything, the rhetoric around immigration has, socially and politically at least, had a greater impact than the arrival people itself.
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