This autumn immigration issues have once again been centre stage, starting with the publication of a report by the Office of National Statistics on 23 October 2007 and then some revisions of Government figures.
The ONS report estimated that the population of the UK was projected to increase by 4.4 million to 65 million by 2016. It also made a projection of a net increase of 190,000 migrants a year which would account for nearly two million over that period. The total figure is also based on a projected greater birth-rate amongst migrant families as compared to the current “average family” . Overall then, they suggested that immigration might be responsible for over half the projected increase.
However statistical projections are based on extrapolations of trends and they are adjusted to reflect the latest shifts in these trends. The ONS says:
“The assumptions underlying national projections are demographic trend based. They are not forecasts. They do not attempt to predict the impact that future government policies, changing economic circumstances or other factors might have on demographic behaviour.”
What they don’t do is to identify the factors, or how these factors themselves will change in determining these trends which, if understood, might lead to a dramatically different prediction.
One of the principal drivers behind migration is economic. Indeed “economic migrant” has become a dirty word used by people opposed to migration. But it follows from this that if the opportunities of employment dry up so these migrants will stop coming and many people will leave the country to seek job opportunities elsewhere.
Ironically immigration controls distort this labour market saturation effect. The creation of a pool of workers who are deemed illegal, or whose rights are reduced compared to British citizens means that they are liable suffer worse wages and conditions. But the extent to which this is true does not reflect badly upon migrants but reflects badly on unscrupulous employers, the Government and the inequalities built into the immigration system. If people are allowed here on sufferance then it is harder for them to fight for their rights. If they are deemed “illegal” they can be super exploited. What is needed is a level playing field across the world for everyone, regardless of where they were born.
But even taking these inequalities into account, the dynamics of the labour market are likely to act to reduce the number of economic migrants which should depress the actual figures compared to the projections.
Also many migrant workers are without families — either single or sending remittances back to their families. Therefore the birth-rate factor might well not be as significant as the ONS statistics imply.
Considerable publicity has been made about the prediction that the population will exceed 75 million by 2051 by Professor David Coleman of Migration Watch. Migration Watch are always putting out scary statements. They claim that they are not concerned with issues of race but with issues of population and the effect of migration on population and population density in this country.
However, Professor David Coleman is a prominent member of the Galton Institute. The Galton Institute used to be called the Eugenics Society until after the Holocaust. Eugenics is all about seeing human and social development as genetically determined and encouraging social and racial trends by “breeding” certain traits in and out, sterilisation and worse. Eugenicists see all kinds of individual, social and cultural trends as being specific to racial groups.
There have been extravagant claims about the impact this projected population would have. One newspaper talked about the addition of the population of London, two Londons the next day and three Londons by the end of the week! This has led to concerns about the environment. Even if the projections are correct people need to note:
• The amount of unused property and land in our towns and cities which could be brought into use if the issue of ownership was not dominant.
• The profligate use of space in private developments which have spread around the country in recent years. Socially necessary housing on a different scale should take over from this.
• The amount of brownfield land which can be developed
On the other hand the labour market is not the only driver of migrant labour. Persecution, wars and so forth create refugees. A new factor which is becoming increasingly important is global warming and the consequent climate chaos. This leads to desertification of some parts and flooding of others. People can no longer survive in these increasingly harsh conditions and flee to more temperate climes.
These climatic factors also create conflicts about water and arable land which leads to more wars. We see this in Darfur.
Already there is an increase of migration from Africa across the Mediterranean. Hundreds of people are drowned every year trying to reach Europe. This has been met with increased maritime immigration patrols. Avoiding these is making the journey more hazardous adding to the casualties.
If the global warming is allowed to continue, or not reduced enough, the pressure to come to places like Europe will become stronger and stronger. If the demand were to be met it would not be a comfortable situation for anyone. But the demand is justified. If the wealthier countries generate more greenhouse gases so they must live with the consequences. We have to look at the global human perspective as opposed to the narrow nationalistic one.
Much has been made of the upward revision of figures regarding migrant labour. It is now said that the number of “foreign workers” in the UK has increased by 1.1 million over the last ten years as opposed to the previous government figure of 800,000 (approximately). A related revision is that 52% of new jobs created over the last 10 years have been taken by ‘foreign workers’ (as opposed to the previously stated 40%).
This is viewed as scandalous in some quarters. But it ought not to be seen as a scandal.
• Unemployment tends to come in cycles that are not determined by migration — booms and slump which are more or less sharp or frequent according to government economic policies. History does not show a correlation between high unemployment and high levels of migration. When lots of migrant workers come to fill jobs it is when there are more jobs around. When unemployment is on the increase, people are unlikely to come for work reasons, and many will leave, as will British born workers, although people might come for other reasons.
• “Foreign” workers are often treated unequally by employers. This can work in opposite directions. Discrimination can keep them out of the labour market. Super-exploitation — low wages and conditions, can mean that they are preferred workers for some employers.
• British born workers should not be considered more worthy or needy than other workers and, conversely, British born workers should be able to travel and work elsewhere in the world, and they do.
• There are many jobs which secure British residents do not want to do. These are often filled by migrant workers. We would not want to argue that this is intrinsically good — there ought not to be second class citizens who just do the dirty jobs — but it means that the idea of “foreign workers” taking “British jobs” does not represent the reality.
• The extent that workers from abroad are working demonstrates how they are contributing to the wealth of Britain.