Charlotte O'Brien, a senior lecturer in law at the University of York, exposes some myths about EU immigration.
The overall impact of EU migration is beneficial to the UK. EU migrants are more likely to be in work than UK nationals. And, according to the UCL Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration, EU migrants provide a net economic benefit of £22bn. As the LSE Centre for Economic Performance notes, “this effects may seem small, [but] in the longer-run impact could be substantial”.
EU migrants are net contributors to public finances, and to a greater degree than UK nationals. They are not merely paying their way – but they are paying some of our way too.
Public services are potentially better funded per head than they would be if EU migrants were not here. If we scrapped free movement there might be fewer people in the UK, but they would be competing for comparatively fewer resources.
Studies have found no systematic evidence to link immigration with pressure on schools or the NHS. In fact, the average use of health services is “considerably” lower for immigrants than UK born nationals, and EU migration does not lead to an increase in waiting times, either.
Many worry that the presence of EU nationals makes it harder for UK nationals to find jobs. But the perception of the labour market as a zero sum game is what economists term the “lump of labour fallacy” – or, as the poet Hollie McNish calls it, “crappy mathematics”.
The Migration Advisory Committee conducted a study in 2012, looking for the relationship between migrant work and the employment of UK nationals. For every 100 EU migrants working the UK, they found there was no statistically significant associated reduction in UK employment. In other words, EU migrants are not making it harder for UK nationals to find jobs.
Studies vary as to whether there is an overall increase or decrease in wages linked to EU migration, but in either case the overall effect is small (a 1 per cent increase in immigration can leading to 0.1-0.3 per cent difference). These differences are not felt evenly along the wage spectrum, however; the Bank of England’s research found that the biggest effect is in the semi-skilled and unskilled services sector, where a 10 percentage point rise in the proportion of immigrants is associated with a 2 per cent reduction in pay, which might provide an argument for stronger wage regulation.
Existing evidence is unclear as to whether there is a relationship between immigration and social cohesion problems. There are some indicators suggesting a reduction in shared social norms and civic participation as immigration increases, but these may be offset by the creation of more co-ethnic communities, which become cohesive. Other studies have argued that income inequality plays a larger role than immigration in social cohesion.