Recently, Lord Ashcroft commissioned a poll of over 20,000 people to discover British attitudes on immigration. The resulting report found that 60% of people believe immigration has produced more disadvantages than advantages for the country as a whole.
According to the report, the main disadvantages include the notion that immigrants claim benefits or use public services without contributing toward the cost of those systems, and create an added pressure on school places and health care services. These were more common complaints than those of taking jobs that would otherwise go to British workers, or changes in the character of local areas.
What do Brits think are the main benefits of immigrants to the UK? In the survey results, the most common responses were that they are willing to do jobs that British people are not prepared to do and that they work harder for lower wages. Yet with more than 80% of poll respondents saying "someone in their family had been treated by NHS staff from overseas", immigrants are still being blamed for slow treatment on the NHS rather than being praised for staffing it.
Whilst more than 75% of respondents to Lord Ashcroft's poll believed "a dramatic reduction in the number of immigrants coming to Britain would help the economy rather than harm it". Dr Heaven Crawley from the Institute for Public Policy Research, states: "The economic benefit of immigration (into the UK) is overall very clear--it boosts GDP. The economic benefits are significantly higher than the costs."
To put these economic benefits in perspective, consider the fact that immigrants (or children of immigrants) are responsible for establishing successful businesses such as EasyJet, Tesco and M&S, which employ thousands in the UK. Anna Bastek, an immigrant from Poland, started a translation business in Wales and won the Institute of Directors' Director of the Year award in the SME category. Ms Bastek also gives inspirational talks to Britons starting up their own businesses.
What about the impact of immigration on the availability of jobs during a recession?
A study last year by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) found no association between migrant inflows and unemployment. No evidence was found of a more adverse impact on unemployment during periods of low growth or the recent recession. In fact, there is a consensus among market economists that the impact of immigration on employment for native workers is low to zero.
The perceived problem of immigrants abusing benefits and public services systems is also distant from reality. Jonathan Portes (Director of NIESR) says, "Immigrants are much less likely than native Brits to claim working age benefits." According to Portes, statistics show that most immigrants are of working age and fairly healthy. Since the UK spends most of the social welfare budget on pensions and health care, "by virtue of demographics, the vast majority of immigrants are much less of a burden to the social welfare system than your average Brit". He also draws attention to the significant financial contribution immigrants make through tax, warning that "without migrants, we'd have to charge higher taxes or we'd have to cut back on services."
Much has been made by politicians and news editors about the immigration woes of the UK due to immigration; but what of the detrimental impact of the distorted perception of immigrants in the UK? Not only has there been a rise in popularity of nationalist, anti-immigrant organisations such as the British National Party and the English Defence League; there has also been a steady drop in the number of foreign students (who are worth about £17 billion to the economy) for the past few years. In the year ending June 2013, there was a fall of 5% compared with 2012. Professor Sir Christopher Snowden blames what is seen as "xenophobic Britain" and the constant tightening of regulations on immigration, which he expects will become worse as we near an election.