Migrants’ benefits debate is a proxy channel for xenophobia in some quarters

“EU referendum: David Cameron wins Theresa May’s backing” – reads the Guardian headline this morning.

Hello? Theresa May is the Home Secretary! It is incredible that her backing for Cameron on this is presented as some sort of surprise. What the Prime Minister does should automatically have the backing of the whole cabinet. Are we saying that there are cabinet ministers who do not support the Prime Minister on his referendum stance?

The cabinet’s support for the PM on a crucial national matter appears to be in question. This is quite an extraordinary state of affairs.

And it is also extraordinary that the national debate and focus is reduced to the ridiculous and narrow question of migrants’ benefits.

Hello? (Again).

We have 2 million-odd British migrants in the rest Europe who are entitled to benefits there too.

Migrants to this country pay tax and national insurance when they are in work (which is the overwhelming majority of them – why come here not to work? They may as well stay at home with their families and not work). So they are entitled to benefits. All the studies show that migrants are net contributors to the UK purse.

Due to the lack of any substantive problem here, I can only conclude that this subject of migrants’ benefits is a proxy debate in some quarters, as evidenced in the Dailies Mail and Express. For some, it is a way of channeling all the hatred of foreigners, all the Little Englander and all the “pull up the drawbridges” vitriol into something which sounds like an acceptable area of argument. That said, I acknowledge that many have genuine and sincere concerns about this policy area for legitimate reasons.

This article was updated by the author on 3rd Feb 2016 at 15:08 to include the italicized words in the last paragraph and the words “in some quarters” in the title.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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134 Comments

  • “Debating X” = “xenophobia”…

    Statements like debating X automatically means someone is racist, sexist, xenophobic, islamaphobia, bigoted or whatever else a great example of why the liberal democrats are in the state they are and why we will probably vote to leave the EU.

    People have genuine concerns, when the response of the political class to people raising these concerns is to dismiss them as some form of bigotry and say we will not pander to people’s concerns guess what the outcome will be.

  • “Migrants’ benefits debate is a proxy channel for xenophobia”. True, but it is not to be lightly dismissed – we need to be careful and clear how we deal with it.

    On the political side of things…… many folk (even on LDV) are pre-occupied with the notion on a Labour Party split (although John Mcdonnell surprisingly seems to be getting in some hits on Osborne – and is doing interesting work – as per trad Lib policy – on employee participation in business).

    What may burst out shortly is a profound a split as imaginable in the Tory Party on Europe.

    All of that – plus the May elections – means tranquility is the last thing we can expect in the next twelve months.

  • “What the Prime Minister does should automatically have the backing of the whole cabinet. ”

    Didn’t Lib Dems spend a lot of time moaning that they shouldn’t be bound by cabinet collective responsibility?
    Why is this a surprise to you? It was already agreed some time ago that ministers would be allowed to campaign on both sides of the argument.

    Re the name calling, can I refer you to an incredibly wise Lib Dem Party Member, perhaps if politicians/believers of all parties followed his advice then the public might want to get more involved in politics?

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/why-the-polls-really-got-it-wrong-49238.html#comment-393055

  • nigel hunter 3rd Feb '16 - 10:23am

    Are the people who say keep migrants out asked to give exact details of why they as individuals want them to stay away? Do their answers tally with the facts? Or is it all emotional driven by the papers, vested interests, brainwashing.

  • Tsar Nicholas 3rd Feb '16 - 10:35am

    Collective cabinet responsibilty has not been broken. The rift between May and Cameron was not out in the open. There always are, and always have been, debates and splits within cabinets.

    My take on benefit cuts for migrants is somewhat different to yours Paul. I think cutting migrants’ benefits is a pre-cursor to cutting everybody else’s benefit entitlements.

  • While working the phones last night it was interesting to note the number of local people in my “blue collar” pro-European ward who had grasped the lack of substance in Cameron’s posturings. For my part I long for this country to get off its knees, stop playing the Euro-victim and aspire to being a normal member of the EU!

  • Such a disappointing piece, playing in to the stereotypes that as Rfs7 and Chris_sh point out are deeply counterproductive.

    People hold views that differ from my own for a wide variety of reasons, sometimes it is because they don’t have the right information; sometimes it is because a something is having a particular impact on things they have a particular interest in (and can’t see an alternative approach); perhaps they weight the values to different concerns differently to me; perhaps they have not had a particular case put to them in the right way, perhaps they are just sick of being sneered; etc.

    One thing I have never found a great way of persuading anyone is calling them names. Perhaps a few more people could remember that.

    This is one of those pieces that really embodies one of the worse impressions of the LibDems, it says a lot about why those with no political allegiance have such a low opinion of the Party.

  • @Paul Walter 3rd Feb ’16 – 10:08am

    Can I query some of your points please?
    “-2 million Brits abroad are entitled to the same benefits”
    Isn’t that slightly misleading? Perhaps a more accurate phrase would be that Brits abroad are, generally, entitled to the same benefits enjoyed by the local population. So if the host country doesn’t pay a benefit that is available here, then you won’t get it there (obviously).
    “-Migrants pay tax and National Insurance”
    I don’t think that is always true, a migrant on a zero hours contract may not always earn enough to pay tax/NI. As may be the case with UK nationals as well of course.
    “-Migrants are a net benefit to national purse ?”
    But are they a greater benefit than employing a UK national to do the same job? E.g. more migrants doing jobs may increase GDP, but does it increase GDP/person?

    There is an issue with benefits, probably similar in a sense to the UK prior to the welfare state. In those days it would be up to the parish of residence to decide what benefits you were going to get. It was only the centralisation of the decisions that took the heat out of some of the arguments of that period (e.g. the eviction of people from one parish to another to avoid payment).
    The only real way of solving the issue is to have all the rules decided centrally, but god help the politician (of any country) who runs on the platform of letting the EU decide what benefits can be paid.

  • @Paul Walter 3rd Feb ’16 – 11:52am

    Perhaps you should move out of your comfort zone and try calling a shovel a spade then?

  • Paul Walter. The total of British claiming benefits in Poland is ONE! How many Poles are claiming here? 30000 British claiming in the EU is far less than EU nationals claiming here.

  • jedibeeftrix 3rd Feb '16 - 1:24pm

    @ geoff – “For my part I long for this country to get off its knees, stop playing the Euro-victim and aspire to being a normal member of the EU!”

    What is a ‘normal’ member?
    1. In the euro
    2. In schengen
    3. Signed up to the law and justice competence
    4. Subject to the EBU

  • David Evans 3rd Feb '16 - 1:41pm

    It’s sad when a principled view is undermined by its supporters by the use of a dodgy narrative. By starting its article with a focus solely on benefits claimants in “the wealthier EU countries” and the fact that more Brits claim there than their citizens claim here, the Guardian hides the fact in the poorer EU countries the situation is the absolute reverse, and that overall, there are nearly twice as many EU citizens claiming in the UK as there are UK citizens claiming in the rest of the EU.

    Paul does not help his point by omitting this aspect totally from his response to Chris_sh. We need to be completely clear and above board in these matters otherwise we will become no better than the others, and calling up Xenophobia in the title rather closes off debate rather than engages in an open discourse. I would urge Paul not to get dragged into those tactics which will ultimately undermine and demean what we stand for.

  • @nigel hunter.

    I just gave my reasons why I don’t want mass migrations from poorer countries but they were not addressed.

    Because it brings both benefits and costs and those costs (increased rents, lack of social housing, increased competition for jobs, school resources tied up with pupils who can’t speak English) are paid by those at the bottom of our social economic ladder whilst the benefits of having an increased cheap flexible labour force and rising house prices are reaped by those at the top.

    Or am I just “brainwashed”? Better than being called a bigot I guess….

  • Poland an example and we have very many Polish people here. The people that migrate here are from countries such as Romania, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Poland where the British are not claiming benefits. Interesting that the number has doubled in Poland to two, wow, but you only want to mention Ireland, France and Germany. Much of the welfare money we pay goes back to these East European countries which is why their leaders do not want benefits restricted. It would collapse their economies. PS my son’s partner is Bulgarian before you call me a ic, ist or a phobe.

  • @paul Walter

    I have never ever said on this site that migrants shouldn’t get benefits. I have said the following:

    1. The mass migration from Eastern Europe brought both costs and benefits, the costs are largely paid by those at the bottom in society and the benefits reaped by those at the top.

    2. My objection to mass migration is largely unaddressed.

    3. It is not fair to call those who object to mass migration racist, bigoted or xenophobic and doing so is unlikely to help the stay in campaign.

    So no, I won’t defend comments I never made.

  • @Paul Walter 3rd Feb ’16 – 1:38pm
    “Why do you focus on Poland particularly?”

    I may be suffering false recall, but didn’t a lot of this start when Polish folk were given the right to travel to the UK. Politicians said there it would be 10s of thousands who would come. As it turned out it was 100s of thousands, but rather than admit that they may have screwed up in the estimate, they told people they were wrong and used the X and R words to slap them down.
    Perhaps a little more honesty at the time could have prevented what is happening now?
    With regard to statistics etc, I think the problem is that there doesn’t appear to be a reliable source for them. The Gov said about 40% of EU migrants claim some form of benefit but never released the raw data. So the likes of the Guardian will (rightly) say hold on a minute, that may include UK spouses of EU migrants. On the other side, you’ll have people saying (probably correctly as well) that the migration count includes students, but students aren’t included in the benefits stats so the percentage is higher, and so it goes on.
    John Marriott is right in that you need a narrative, but it has to be a narrative that shows hope to the people at the bottom of the pile who are not seeing any real benefit (whether that is due to inward migration of people, or outward migration of factory jobs etc).

  • You do know that almost as many Britons migrate to the rest of the EU as EU nationals migrate here, don’t you?

    Surely if that were true net migration would be zero, and it isn’t?

  • No. Net migration covers all emigration and immigration – not just that related to the EU.

    I’m confused — does that mean there are 300,000 people coming to the UK every year from outside the EU? Really?

    That doesn’t sound like it can be right, but is it?

  • around 300,000 non EU arrive every year with around 100,000 leaving. Student Visa, ICT, family visas.

  • According to http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34071492 :

    ‘Net migration of EU citizens was 183,000, up 53,000 from the year ending March 2014.’

    Which, if correct, means it is not true that ‘almost as many Britons migrate to the rest of the EU as EU nationals migrate here’ unless you count nearly 200,000 as ‘almost’, which I think runs some risk of terminological inexactitude.

  • I wonder if the ‘2.2 million Britons live in the other 26 EU countries’ figure is double-counting, ie, includes people with second homes in other EU countries who only spend part of the year there, and also count as living in the UK, so won’t show up as leavers in the net migration statistics?

  • This refers to the number of citizens in the UK or Britons in other EU states. It is not a period migration number

    Right — well, as a static count, it’s not really relevant to a discussion of migration, ie flows, is it?

    Concerns about migration are concerns about changes. Static figures of who lives there at one particular moment miss the point: what people concerned about migration are concerned about is not how many people live in place X now, but how many are coming in / going out.

  • @paul Walter

    So you’re saying that there hasn’t been a massive influx of people from Eastern Europe and i am just imaging it? Well, OK. As a newly decided out supporter please use that in your in campaign, please tell those who say we’ve recently had mass migration from Eastern Europe that they’re just imagining it. That’ll go down well.

    I’d have no problem with the eu if we had just stuck with the 15 countries that were members before the eastern block joined. The traffic from Eastern Europe is mostly one way. Those st the bottom have paid for this while those at the top have reaped the rewards of their labour.

  • Or possibly those ‘2.2 million Britons’ having been living in those countries for a long time? According to the figures I can find, up until about 2003, net migration between Britain and the EU was pretty much even.

    So in that case, it would be perfectly understandable for both it to be true that lots of British citizens live in other EU countries (and have mostly lived there for fifteen years or more), and for it to be reasonable to be concerned about the current levels of migration which see far more people arriving than are leaving.

  • @paul Walter

    If you were doing some phone polling for the stay in campaign and someone on a council estate told you that it was much harder to get a job in their local factory as a result of the mass migration (to their area) from Eastern Europe, that their children’s education was suffering as their kids teacher struggled with the pupils in their child’s class how couldn’t speak English and that their older child couldn’t get access to social housing due to newly arrived families getting priority on the waiting lists, would you respond by quoting statistics that “proved” that all these things that they complainef had hurt them were in fact good things that had helped the country?

  • Surely long term residents are just – if not more so – as likely to claim benefits are they not

    Don’t know. I seem to recall hearing that most EU countries operate contribution-based benefits systems, though, where you can’t claim until and unless you’ve paid enough tax in.

    So someone who worked in the UK, paid tax here, then retired to Spain, wouldn’t be eligible for a Spanish pension — whereas an equivalent Spaniard, moving here, where there’s no such contributory requirement, would be immediately eligible for the basic UK state pension.

    So it’s not quite true to suggest that the UK citizens living abroad are eligible for benefits in their host countries in the same way that foreign citizens coming here are eligible for UK benefits, is it?

  • there is no evidence of widespread “benefit tourism”.

    If no EU nationals are coming here and claiming benefits, then what’s the fuss about not paying them? It won’t actually affect anybody, will it, stopping paying these things nobody is claiming anyway?

  • Hello? (Again)!

    “We have 2 million-odd British migrants in the rest Europe who are entitled to benefits there too.”

    An irrelevant point, the issue isn’t those who are entitled, but those who actually claim and hence cost the host government/taxpayers money.

    How about being honest and adopt the policy: 1p on income tax to pay for migrant benefits, while we’re about it how about another 1p for all the aid the LibDems are wanting to give to ‘refugees’. Naturally these are on top of the 1p on income tax for education…

  • Are you not able to debate with what I am actually saying

    What you seem to be saying is that there’s no ‘benefit tourism’. That is, EU citizens don’t come to the UK and claim benefits. They all come and pay tax (to the tune of £20 billion).

    Is that not what you’re saying? If not what are you saying?

    And if it is what you’re saying then surely not paying benefits is a non-issue because nobody is claiming, they’re all in fact paying tax, which is where that £20 billion comes from, yes?

  • @Paul Walter (3rd Feb ’16 – 1:54pm)

    “The UK gains £20billion from EU migrants – they pay far more tax than they claim benefits.

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/nov/05/eu-migrants-uk-gains-20bn-ucl-study

    Paul you did read that Guardian article? Because it is effectively saying that it is okay for the UK government UNDER invests in UK education and should continue to do so!!
    Yes that is right, why invest in UK higher education – costs money (remember the 1p on income tax…), when you can employ a graduate from an EU country…

  • “As EU migrants here give £20billion net to the economy per year, the benefits payments argument doesn’t seem to hold much traction, does it?”

    Precisely, because none of them are claiming benefits, so it doesn’t matter if we reduce payments.. 🙂

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Feb '16 - 3:49pm

    This is partly about language. These migrants are EU citizens. They can apply to become UK citizens but do not need to because they can come and go. Donald Tusk is only too well aware that Poland would like many of the Polish citizens working in the UK to return and contribute to the Polish economy. Tory eurosceptics should think this through. Are they trying to create a pull factor affecting the families of these workers?

  • @ Paul Walter I tried to post a note of support for you an hour ago – but was given a flood alert. I’ve made three posts today.

    You seem to have had a very busy day since you first posted at 9.38… then at 10.08 11.52 12.31 1.38 1.54 1.57 2.18 2.19 2.30 2.32 2.51 2.59 3.03 3.12 3.25 3.30 3.43………….. that’s 18 posts so far.

    Is there an Orwellian rule about some posters being more equal than other, and don’t you think it’s time you scrapped it ? I’ll allow you a 19th post to rebut this..

  • David Evans 3rd Feb '16 - 4:26pm

    Paul, your comment “”Hides” in the sense that they publish those numbers in the table at the top of the page” does you no credit.
    In fact it is not in the table at the top of the page, but four Pages down, in a table in quite a small font, sorted with the big net contributors at the top in a bold dark blue, and the net beneficiaries in a very light blue after three paragraphs looking at the stats from one viewpoint. The counter view is not mentioned until paragraphs 10 and 11. We all know how to present statistics to skew a discussion and the Guardian’s approach here is a prime example of one way. We shouldn’t condone it.

  • I’m quite prepared to accept Paul’s figures that there is a net financial benefit to the country from mass migration. But even so, that doesn’t mean I’ll vote to stay in the EU for the reasons I gave. No party addresses these issues because no party cares about these things, fortunately millions of people do care though and those millions get a vote too.

    I think the stay in side will lose. It will be like the Scottish referendum where people who don’t normally vote and are ignored by politicans turnout in droves…

  • A Social Liberal 3rd Feb '16 - 6:31pm

    The way I look at migration is that without inward migration I wouldn’t have an NHS dentist, I wouldn’t have been nursed as well as I was when I was in hospital and my Dad wouldn’t be looked after in his home – nor would my council be able to place him in a care home.

    I wouldn’t be able to afford the UK holiday I was able to go to last year, I wouldn’t be able to afford the staples of my diet and I wouldn’t be able to travel.

    Immigrants carry out many of the lower paid jobs that indigenous people won’t do, in order to fill those positions employers would have to pay over the odds and prices would go up exponentially.

  • @A Social Liberal

    “Immigrants carry out many of the lower paid jobs that indigenous people won’t do, in order to fill those positions employers would have to pay over the odds and prices would go up exponentially.”

    Doesn’t that rather support the point that Rsf7 and many others make, i.e. that immigration is great for business etc but bad for the folks at the bottom of the pile?

  • @a social liberal.

    I have to say that I find what you’re saying both deeply offensive and I think it’s immoral.

    Two reasons.

    I cannot and will not accept that there are any jobs that you cannot or should not expect British people to do, in fact I think the idea that British people should not do, or should not be allowed not to do, certain jobs is racist.

    As for without immigrants we’d be paying over the odds for xyz, I think that is just immoral and it sounds like explotation to me. That sounds like saying that having to pay a certain wage for certain jobs deemed lowely is ‘over the odds’ when folk from poor countries can just be removed from their local labour market and exploited. Notice people never seem to feel like that about their own jobs or professions, it’s always others, those lesser down that are there for exploitation.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 3rd Feb '16 - 7:53pm

    @Rsf7 If a migrant is doing a lower-paid job which a UK citizen would otherwise do, they will often be doing this job as well or better than the UK citizens who applied. I have no idea what the reason for this is but it’s just an observation. Why else would UK companies go to Eastern Europe to recruit workers?

  • Paul Walter, how does an ever increasing population density (and demand for housing, schools, healthcare, roads etc) improve my quality of life?

    I also note that £20bn net contribution you herald is spread over 11 years. With GPD being well in excess of £1trn, the increase in population is proportionally greater than the economic gain ie. as individuals, we’ve all become poorer.

    Whilst you may worship the alter of GPD and mass migration, I prefer to observe our quality of life, thank you very much.

  • @Thomas Shakespeare
    “Why else would UK companies go to Eastern Europe to recruit workers?”

    If an employer can offer employment to a group of migrants who are here without their family, they can obviously live cheaper (sharing housing/utilities costs etc) so can survive on the min wage. As they obviously won’t have family here then they will be able to concentrate on just making money (working where and when the boss wants with minimal notice).

    Of course, Joe/Jo UK will probably be living with family, will have all the mundane things to do, e.g. getting the kids to school/fed/bed/doctor/dentist, oh and actually spending time with them, all very inconvenient for an employer. Plus the only bill sharing is with the other half (if working) or the tax payer, so perhaps they’d like a bit more than minimum wage.

  • Paul Walter:
    “The UK gains £20billion from EU migrants – they pay far more tax than they claim benefits.”
    Then later:
    “As EU migrants here give £20billion net to the economy per year”

    I’m afraid you have completely misunderstood the research (by Dustmann and Frattini) written about in the Guardian article. They did not claim that EU migrants bring in £20bn per year.

    What they said was that between the years 2001 and 2011, new migrants (i.e. those who arrived after 2000) from the EEA (not EU – but I’m nit-picking there) made a net contribution of £20.2bn over the entire period (i.e. an average of £2bn per annum).

    So not only have you claimed that 10 years worth of benefits are being accrued every year, you’ve also missed the important point that these figures only apply to new migrants. When you include migrants who were already here before 2001, the net benefit is massively smaller. When you then factor in non-EEA migrants on top, you end up with a net LOSS to the public finances of about £77.8bn over the same period (though admittedly “natives” were expensive as well).

    All the figures I’ve just quoted can be found here, along with figures from some other studies which have come up with very different results :-

    http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/fiscal-impact-immigration-uk

    You can’t rely on figures like these to prove that people are xenophobic or irrational. Some studies find benefits (though as just mentioned, only for certain types of migrants at certain times) while other studies find no benefits at all. All studies suggest that the impact, be it positive or negative, is a tiny proportion of GDP.

  • @Paul Walter
    Having just read the comment from PT, I went and double checked and yes, the 20bn figure is over an 11 year period.

    The current figure from the Gov on the number of EU migrants in the UK shows the current figure as either 2.9 mill or 3 mill depending on the count used. ( http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/sn06077.pdf )

    Obviously this figure would not be valid for the whole period of the 20bn benefit, but for the sake of argument if you take a halfway point (1.5 mill) and use that as an average, then do the sums, doesn’t it come in around £1212 per year per person.

    Now that seems a bit low to me, not knowing much about these things, do you know how that compares to the average for UK citizens?

  • Paul Walter:
    “Due to the lack of any substantive problem here, I can only conclude that this subject of migrants’ benefits is a proxy debate.”

    Not at all. It’s well understood that the main reason Cameron is focusing on benefits is because it’s the only real tool he has for trying to make the UK less appealing to EU migrants. The goal – as well as saving money on benefits – is to reduce immigration.

    Now, you might get all apopleptic at the idea that Cameron wants to reduce immigration, and take it as proof that he is a nasty xenophobe. But if that’s the case, how come you support a party which boasts (yes, boasts) on its website that it “helped cut immigration by a third”? (http://www.libdems.org.uk/issue-immigration though I’ve no idea where they get their stats!)

    You might also recall that your party’s previous leader, not so long ago, put forward proposals to cut benefits for EU migrants, telling his LBC listeners that “the freedom to move is not the same as the freedom to claim benefits upon arrival”.

    How is that different from what Cameron is saying now?

    I loathe Cameron but he’s no xenophobe – not on this evidence, anyway. The really disturbing thing about this – as Psi and others have pointed out – is that your attitude to Cameron is the same as the Lib Dem attitude to ordinary voters. Calling people xenophobes when they are not is out of order; it pollutes the whole discourse and makes it impossible to have a cool and rational debate on how we manage immigration to optimise the benefits for all of us. The longer we’re prevented from having that debate, the more popular UKIP will become and the more likely we’ll exit the EU.

  • nvelope2003 3rd Feb '16 - 9:14pm

    Wow this is really going to bring voters flocking to the Liberal Democrat cause.

  • James Ridgwell 3rd Feb '16 - 9:23pm

    Paul, your article does not appear to present any evidence that people in the UK wanting to talk about migrant benefits is driven by xenophobia. I strongly suspect that for most people, wanting to talk about it is not driven by xenophobia. My view is that migrant benefits are always a legitimate topic of debate, because any public spending (or policy more widely) should always be open to democratic debate. I am personally interested in the migrant benefit issue, and I do not consider myself to be a xenophobe. We should not try to close down debates, but rather facilitate fact based, rationale, respectful and useful debates on this important issue.

  • If the uk yearly gdp is 1,000 billion. And over 10 year immigrants made a net contribution of 20 billion that’s 0.2% of gdp right?

    And if immigrants make up more than 0.2% of the population doesn’t that just mean the economy is bigger as a result of the increase in population but most people are poorer?

    Not that this is my reason for being against the EU you understand.

  • Question for Paul:

    Are you in favour of unlimited immigration?

    If not, why are you opposed to the immigration that you would not allow?

  • Paul

    So who are you suggesting is channelling xenophobia?

  • Very good piece, Paul Walter – hit the nail on the head.

  • @ Paul Walter. Blimy, what a busy chap. 26 posts and not a sign of flooding. They could do with that sort of flood protection in Cumbria.

    Please share your secret to us mere mortals.

  • Paul , as far as the national debate , not sure really it is a debate , and in that I agree about xenophobia , but it is the media and mainly two of the tabloids or more , doing that. Glad you do not think Cameron is part of it , he needs our support on this , Tim needs to back him , the prime ministers own right wing are going to go for him big time ! It is more about services and simple supply and demand , my concern about migration from Europe or anywhere . We do not fill the state treasury anything like as much as the whole net gain view ,advances .Many are very low paid , yet are in the same need of public services .Also , even if there is a net gain from migration, no secretary of state in any front line department is prepared to spend what is necessary . The real debate is about that . And who is prepared to have that very debate ?!

  • A Social Liberal. Perhaps without immigration my 90 year old mother would not have had to wait two weeks for a GP appointment and a further two weeks for treatment. We fought hard and long for decent pay and conditions in this country yet you are prepared to throw that away for the lower paid as long as you can have your holiday? Fruit and vegetables never rotted on the bush or in the ground before mass migration did it? The myth of the British being lazy was put about to enable mass migration. It is an insult to you, me and our children. Note how it is always other people that are lazy etc. Nobody agrees that it is their own family whatever walk of life they come from.

  • “You mean just after the ice age?”

    What a complete joke of a comment.

  • Stephen Booth 4th Feb '16 - 4:07pm

    Let’s get some sense into this debate! At the core of the problem are a generation of gutless cynical politicians who won’t stand up and tell the truth about immigrants and benefit claimants. They won’t rebut the xenophobia and prejudice rife amongst the population at large for fear of losing support. Oh for those firebrand, fire-in-the-belly politicos of the past!
    The total annual cost of what many will still call “unemployment beneft” out of ignorance, is less than £5bn out of a budget of ALL benefits (of which pensions are the biggest part) totalling £167bn (figures from 2011-12).
    Job Seekers Allowance? Do any of them know how much it is? £57.35 a week if you’re under 25 and have paid National Insurance for at least 2 years. £73.10 if you’re over 25.

  • Re: “before mass migration” (Paul Walter 4th Feb ’16 – 3:13pm)

    I think it is fairly obvious given the context that what is being spoken of, namely, post WWII immigration, and specifically post-1997 where numbers leaped from the 10,000’s to 100,000’s.

    To me it is also very obvious, that people were generally comfortable with the levels of immigration being experienced in the 80’s and early 90’s. However, they are decidedly uncomfortable and liable to revolt over the levels seen subsequently and the gutless apologetic response of politicians of all persuasions (including the Coalition) to do anything rational about it. It is noteworthy to see that this isn’t just a problem with Westminster but one across national boundaries – Angela Merkel, for example, has quite clearly misjudged the German people. Yes, the rise of xenophobia across Europe can be attributed to the actions of the “right on” crowd!

    The points Anne and others make are totally valid; there are many benefits to having low levels of gross immigration.

  • This is just a small site and can’t influence the results of the referendum too much. But if the quality of the debate here is representative of the in and out campaigns then I think it’s pretty safe to say that despite the in campaign’s lead going into this, we’re leaving the EU.

    The in side have failed to address the issue that loads of communities have been harmed by mass migration and they even seem to deny it happened at all after the eastern block joined the EU and they have no plans to do anything about it. With a position like that I just don’t see how the stay in side can win this debate and the subsequent referendum.

  • jedibeeftrix 4th Feb '16 - 6:55pm

    @ Paul – “Specifically, I repeat, what is the problem with EU national’s benefits in the UK?”

    claiming child benefit for children brought up outside the country.

  • Paul Walter they are given the jobs because the employer does not have to worry about conditions as several other Mareks who will crowd together in substandard housing will do the jobs if they complain. The British are not lazy but we fought long and hard for decent pay and conditions which is why employers do not want us. It is the low skilled and poorer in society suffering that have higher living costs due to living in a family unit but you seem to care little for them. As far as migration over the ages is concerned the population always remained steady in numbers. That is not the case today and why there are problems. We have had an identity since the 16th century. Do you condemn the Romanians, Lithuanians, Bulgarian, Polish, Pakistanis or Indians for having an identity who stay in their own communities? No, only the British with ancestors here it seems. Whatever you say uncontrolled immigration has been a disaster but it is not only the Eastern Europeans that are troubling the public who see the NHS and schools buckling. It is the numbers that are the issue. Nothing wrong with controlled immigration, we do not seem to mind that we are unable to just go to Australia and Canada without skills. I have the feeling that the same wooly metropolitan latte drinking liberals would be demonstrating if the same number of British had gone to Eastern Europe putting a strain on their infrastructures and taking the low skilled jobs.

  • @Paul Walter
    “Specifically, I repeat, what is the problem with EU national’s benefits in the UK?”

    Perhaps you’re asking the wrong people here, Paul, and should try directing that question to Andrew Stunnel – he being the author of the Lib Dems’ official immigration policy paper (endorsed as “excellent” by one P Walter), which has the following to say:-

    Preventing benefit misuse
    A major public concern is that migrants come to the UK purposely to misuse the benefits system which, as a consequence, adds an extra burden onto the UK taxpayer. Whilst overall migrants put in more tax than they take out in benefits and public services, there are areas in the system that could, and should, be tightened up. We propose the following measures.
    Extend the period EU Citizens have to wait before claiming UK benefits
    …This would save UK taxpayers from footing benefit bills for an EEA citizen for a further three months than is currently the case…
    Strengthen the Habitual Residence Test
    As it stands, if an EU citizen decides to stay on in the UK after the permitted period of 3 months and wishes to claim certain means-tested benefits they must pass a ‘Habitual Residence Test’. If they pass this test then they are eligible to claim non-contributory benefits with equal rights to British citizens. Liberal Democrats support Coalition Government measures to strengthen the Habitual Residence Test by increasing the range and depth of evidence collected from claimants…
    Preventing abuse
    The Economic Migration chapter of this paper sets out steps to prevent abuse of our benefits system and public services due to migration. By extending the period EU citizens have to wait before claiming UK benefits and by strengthening the habitual residence test we can begin to reassure the public that the free movement of labour is the right course for the UK and for their own personal well being.

    And so on, but you get the picture.

    If benefit payments to EU citizens is not a problem, why does your party’s policy paper go to such lengths trying to do something about it?

    And more to the point – why is it OK for Lib Dems to say this kind of stuff, but anybody else who does is instantly accused of being some kind of crypto-xenophobe? Can you really not appreciate why non-Lib Dems do not take kindly to this sort of thing?

  • Peter Watson 4th Feb '16 - 7:22pm

    @Paul Walter https://www.libdemvoice.org/migrants-49260.html#comment-393313
    Your final two paragraphs risk epitomising the issue that Rsf7 and others have described.
    The “Yes” campaign in general, and Lib Dems in particular, need a positive message to reassure British citizens about their job security, e.g. one that addresses developing skills, etc. rather than telling people who genuinely feel that their livelihoods are threatened that the problem is in their imagination, or that it’s for the good of the country, or that they are simply being racist.
    In fact your text reminded me of a Jimmy Carr gag in which Carr suggests to a ranting xenophobe that if they’re coming over here, can’t read, can’t write, can’t speak the language, work for peanuts, and they’re stealing your job, then you must be really sh*t. That’s not a message that the In campaign should use, but it comes across a bit like that at times.

  • Incidentally you are STILL misrepresenting that “£20bn” figure.

  • “Well when did this “mass migration” start?”

    Your argument is such an utter fallacy. It laughable. Comparing today against historic immigration that was a relative trickle – and into a sparsely population landmass at that.

    You idealism is becoming clear – there should be no borders or nationalities. Everyone is free to move wherever they please, regardless of impact on the ‘domestic’ populace. Good luck peddling that to the public.

  • “European migrants made a net contribution of £20bn to UK public finances between 2000 and 2011.”

    So EU migrants are not a drain on our finances. They contribute more than they take.”

    Are you purposely ignoring our points? £20bn over 11 years is proportionally less than the increase in population. Thus as individuals we all became poorer.

    Here, let me simplify the effect to help you understand;

    2020 Population 100 million + GPD 1000 billion

    Population increases 10%

    2040 Population 110 million + GPD 1050 billion

    You’d argue in this instance that the population growth added 50 billion to our economy. Great!

    Except…

    2020 – Wealth is 10k per person

    2040 – Wealth is 9.5k per person

    Everyone is poorer. Had not noticed that UK GPD per person has been stagnating and declining this past decade?

  • Thomas Shakespeare 4th Feb '16 - 8:54pm

    The interesting thing about this debate is it’s clearly about priorities. Nobody is denying that we could reduce immigration by leaving the EU. 70% of Brits think immigration is too high and there are clear short-term disadvantages to immigration, e.g. pressure on public services. However, this has to be balanced with:

    1) The economy – at the very least, access to trade deals with non-EU countries negotiated by the EU would not be included in any Brexit agreement. We are also likely to have to pay for the EU without following its laws.

    2) Defence – the EU helps us cooperate and adopt collective security. “NATO!” I hear you scream. However, there are countless examples of the EU, and not NATO, creating peace. https://www.libdemvoice.org/lets-talk-about-peace-49008.html

    3) Climate change – working together with other EU countries helps us to reduce the rate of global warming. Air quality controls and collective CO2 targets are example of this.

    4) Benefits of free movement – many UK citizens benefit from easy access to the EU for holidays. Free movement allows pensioners to retire to other EU countries and even claim benefits there. Students can study abroad more easily.

    5) Harsh immigration / movement policies harming trade deals with other countries, e.g. China and India. Vince Cable mentions this in ‘After the Storm’.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 4th Feb '16 - 8:58pm

    One other point – wages. The impact of immigration on wages is fairly small. According to a recent Bank Of England research paper ” statistically significant negative effects of immigration on wages are concentrated among skilled production workers,
    and semi/unskilled service workers. ”

    In the latter case “a 10 percentage point rise in the proportion of immigrants working in semi/unskilled services leads to a 1.88 percent reduction in pay. ”

    For skilled production workers “a 10% rise in immigration
    lowers wages by 1.68%, but the compositional effect is in the same ball park, around 1.13%. ” This is an important point. Immigrants are paid less than native workers on average (around 5% less). The reduction in wages is mainly a reflection of the fact that the composition of the sector includes more lower-paid migrants.

    http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/research/Documents/workingpapers/2015/swp574.pdf

  • Thomas Shakespeare 4th Feb '16 - 8:59pm

    “without following its laws” should be “without having any say on its laws”

  • “And yet in the area of highest immigration settlement – London – UKIP has very low support.” Paul Walter.

    Well basic maths and psychology will give you the reasons for why this would be so in the general population sampling case. For this statement to have any real meaning, you need to restrict the research sample to the non-immigrant permanent population and compare this result with other areas.

    Also London, isn’t really a single homologous entity, it has very different neighbourhoods. So getting a truly representative result would require some care both in selecting your sample and contacting your sample – remember the flaws in the general election polling and why they got it so wrong…

  • @Paul Walter
    I’ve already explained the issues with that dodgy “£20bn” figure and given links to further details. After what you wrote last week about people spreading misleading memes I’m surprised by this turn of events. You haven’t even acknowledged yet (unless I missed it) that you exaggerated the net effect by a factor of 10.

    I do not believe I have misunderstood your main point. You could not be making it much clearer. You believe that non-Lib Dems who express concerns about immigration are sometimes dog whistling. You do not believe the same to be true about Lib Dems. I think – as many others have pointed out here, including some of your fellow Lib Dems – that you are generally wrong on this and that such attitudes have helped contribute to the low esteem your party now finds itself held in.

    To give one example: you claim that Cameron is pushing the benefits issue “almost to the exclusion of all other EU-related policy”. That is demonstrably not true. Taking Cameron’s statement to the House on his draft agreement and pasting it into Word reveals that the speech amounted to 1,872 words. Only 289 of those – some 15% – related to benefits, and this was right near the end. The emphasis you are putting on it here is yours, not his.

    @Thomas Shakespeare
    “5) Harsh immigration / movement policies harming trade deals with other countries, e.g. China and India.”

    Did you see the BBC News yesterday? Astonishing pictures of thousands of immigrants queuing at a Chinese railway station to be taken out of the country. Apparently the years of success for the Chinese economy now mean that factories are closing as the owners realise they can now produce things even cheaper elsewhere. The immigrants have been discarded and are having to follow the jobs. If that’s not harsh I’m not sure what is.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 4th Feb '16 - 10:48pm

    Hi Stuart

    I agree that it’s harsh. The point is that China has a strong economy and skilled workers. If we want to improve our own economy by trading with China and allowing them to invest here, surely we should allow reasonable levels of immigration. We certainly shouldn’t be turning away Chinese businessmen and women at airports, partly due to our ridiculously overcomplicated visa system. The ‘cut the figures at all costs’ mantra is very damaging.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 4th Feb '16 - 11:05pm

    Roland,

    The converse to Paul’s statement is also true. Areas where UKIP have high support, e.g. Clacton(6%), Thanet(9%) and Rochester and Strood (10%), have lower-than-average immigration levels. 13% of people in UK were born abroad.

  • I don’t think it’s proxy Xenophobia. It’s more of an attempt to get some sort of deal on an issue that is important to a lot of voters and to get the Conservative cabinet on board in a difficult referendum fight. The reality that it’s being touted because about 70 or so percent of our population want reduced immigration and they still get to vote even if me and thee think they’re wrong.

  • Thanks Thomas for that addition. Personally, I don’t see UKIP support – given their overt stance on the EU among other things, as being a true indicator of the British public’s support for maintaining high levels of immigration year-on-year; although obviously Paul Walter’s does…

  • Once upon a time ,boys and girls , there was a Liberalism that was in the mainstream , it was not socialist , idealising brotherly love ,and wanting change above all , but it was not conservative either , not either dog eat dog or stick in the mud .On immigration , it was moderate , as on nearly everything ! It was , despite what a few of elderly radicals in our part shall and do say to the contrary sometimes , very in tune with most people.

    This party , on this issues, is in danger of getting lost in a rather odd , and rare , unity between the centre right economic wing , libertarian in their almost every pore , who thus like open borders , and whose approach seems to put the economy ahead of society on occasion , and often supports business a little too much , and the left wing “bleeding heart ” types who seem to care so much about everyone and everything except the bulk of the population of this country , whose views are a little to the right of them !

    Paul , you have always seemed to me not just the very sensible , decent and likeable fellow you are , but one who would not fit in to the alliance I just mentioned.It seems to be going a bit skew wiff !Come back !

  • typo, I should have written “despite what a few of the elderly radicals in our party shall and do say ”
    P.S. And that is said with respect .

  • Peter Watson 5th Feb '16 - 12:46am

    @Thomas Shakespeare “a 10 percentage point rise in the proportion of immigrants working in semi/unskilled services leads to a 1.88 percent reduction in pay. ”
    It is interesting that one thread on LDV is calling for more “blue collar” Lib Dems while another is criticising those who worry about the “fairly small” impact of immigration on wages which falls hardest on those working in semi/unskilled services.
    I think it is vital that Lib Dems and the In campaign acknowledge that many people have valid and sincerely held concerns about their employment and their income, rather than dismiss them so readily, and then explain why remaining in the EU is the best way to improve their situations. Telling them that other people are doing well out of it will not win them over.

  • Rsf7 3:15 pm
    The local factory closed years ago.In those days some of the workers came from southern Europe-Spain, Portugal. and Cyprus(before they were EU countries). There was a Pole. He was an ex-soldier, one who stayed in Britain after the communists took over Poland. Many others did and they faced a campaign by the TUC to send them back. (Some Chinese seamen from Liverpool did get sent back after WW2- even those with English wives).
    The council houses were sold off years ago.
    The days of leaving school at 15 without qualifications are long gone.Who wants to spend hours on a production line anyway? The boredom is excruciating.
    The young people of Britain today deserve a chance of being prepared for highly skilled jobs. Britain has no future without a high-tec sector. Countries such as Taiwan and South Korea are getting ahead.Education is highly valued in these countries.
    The migrant benefit debate is a smokescreen .The Camerons of this world want to get rid of all benefits paid by the state.
    (other parts of the world have labour migration. I saw a safety notice on a Bangkok construction site yesterday which had Burmese writing on it. Lots of Burmese work in Thailand. Anti-foreigner sentiment in Burma reduced it to one of the world’s poorest countries-still it had its sovereignty, although now its part of the Asean Economic Community, AEC)

  • To me the main problem with mass immigration is that it is unpopular with the majority of the populations of most countries and thus creates tensions, as well as being one of the things that makes politicians look like some sort of neo-feudal elite instead of the representatives of the electorate. Free movement is a noble ideal, but it isn’t popular enough with the electorate to be sustainable for much longer. Hence all over Europe the razor wire and boarders are going up. It’s all very well bemoaning populism, but it is the populace that decides elections.

  • You used the term ‘when they are in work’, trying to create a narrative that the majority are in work, when clearly people from Somalia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan are by some majority principally inactive in the economy.

    http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21583710-somalis-fare-much-worse-other-immigrants-what-holds-them-back-road-long

  • Glenn
    How populist is bombing Syria?
    The razor wire has been put up to stop refugees from conflict zones coming from outside Europe not free movement within it.

  • Manfrang,

    Here’s the thing . You’ve got countries in Europe arguing for free movement whilst crying xenophobia on behalf of their citizens and erecting boarders to stop victims of war. I by the way support free movement. The fact is most of the rest of the population does not. Every single poll shows this. All the liberal-to left parties are losing support largely over the issue of immigration. Personally I think constantly highlighting it is a hiding to nothing and Alan Johnson talked a lot of sense last night on a Week in Politics.

  • David Allen 5th Feb '16 - 9:59am

    Can’t anyone remember Gordon Brown’s pratfall in 2010, when he called the lady he canvassed a bigot, and she indignantly protested that her concerns were about things like overstretched local services and competition for jobs driving down wages – and nothing to do with race, colour, language or bigotry?

    Yes, Cameron is using migrants’ benefits as a proxy for a whole host of things. Dead right – up to that point. Dead wrong, when you sum up the things it is a proxy for as “xenophobia”. It’s about much more than that.

    Immigration is complicated. It is a big economic benefit overall. But it also means that the less economically competitive residents get thrown out of jobs and replaced by ambitious, able and cheaper immigrants. Big business and the middle class win. Workers often lose. What should be done is to tax the winners and fund the losers – by pumping money into high-immigration areas, so that neither incomers nor the natives can complain about poor housing and services, for example.

    Seems to be all too complicated for British politicians.

  • Glenn
    I didn’t get to see the Week in Politics. I hope Alan said that overseas students (who help to keep British universities financially afloat) should not be counted as immigrants as they mostly leave once their studies are over.Also I hope he explained why illegal restrictions were placed on Thai women who were marrying in the UK by the last Labour government.

  • Paul claims :
    “And yet in the area of highest immigration settlement – London – UKIP has very low support. I would content that is because such settlement is successful and that the main complaint comes from populations who have little experience of immigrant settlement. That is, fear of the bogeyman they don’t know.”

    No. It’s because the amount of per capita of wealth in London is far higher. The relative abundance of London’s ‘share of pie’, means that everyone in the London region, gets a decent share, so there is much less friction in terms of social cohesion. The share of pie in wealth terms, is much, much less in many northern towns, which breeds social disharmony. Quite simple psychology to be honest.
    If I’m wrong, let’s test it and take some wealth out of London and distribute it more fairly northwards, and see how liberal, chilled and cosmopolitan London manages to stay, with less wealth ‘pie’ ?

  • Manfrang,
    Sorry not to get back to you earlier.
    Johnson was talking more about Europe than immigration. The gist of what he was saying was that attacking Cameron over his negotiations is a misguided strategy for the pro-European cause because it backs up the rhetoric of the anti-EU campaign.

  • Peter Watson 5th Feb '16 - 4:09pm

    @Paul Walter “I have just updated the article”
    At the risk of appearing like a “little grovelling b*****d”, the way you respond and interact in the discussion thread below your article is admirable and a good example for LDV contributors.

  • @Peter – Would agree Paul does seem to try and interact with those who comment. Whilst I do not always agree with Paul, I find it satisfying that comments aren’t simply falling into a void. However, I have noted that LDV seems to be doing better in recent times in getting article authors to revisit the comments and provide a little feedback, even if at times it is just “thanks for all the comments”.

  • James Ridgwell 6th Feb '16 - 10:50pm

    i agree – thanks for engaging with the debate BTL Paul

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