The palatable truth about EU migration: 5 reasons why it’s good for Britain

Telegraph MigrationThe Sunday Telegraph’s disingenuous claim last weekend that “600,000 unemployed EU migrants are living in Britain at a cost of £1.5 billion to the NHS” sparked a chorus of protests about so-called ‘benefit tourism’ from the Mail, Sun and Express. Conservatives and Ukippers gleefully joined the feeding frenzy, with hard-right Tory MP Douglas Carswell upping the rhetorical ante from “waves of migrants” to a “tsunami of economic refugees”.

Fortunately, the European Commission, the NIESR and others were on hand to point out some facts. The Sunday Telegraph wrongly included students, retired people, parents on leave and some schoolchildren in its definition of unemployed. In fact, the Department of Work & Pensions’ own estimates state that fewer than 38,000 people from the other 27 EU countries claim jobseekers allowance in the UK. This represents approximately 2.6% of all claimants and is just 6% of the Sunday Telegraph’s front page ‘EU unemployed’ figure.

This latest example of truth-bending in the sensitive EU migration debate obscures both the real issues at stake – such as skills and housing shortages in some areas – and the significant and well-documented benefits. Overall, study after study has found the impact of free movement for the UK to be overwhelmingly positive. Here are five reasons why:

1) Brits benefit from EU free movement – which is a two-way street – as much as anyone. Around 1.4 million Brits live in other EU countries and the UK is a net exporter of ‘migrants’ to Spain and France. 25 million Brits holiday in other EU countries each year.

2) EU citizens come to Britain to work: they are more likely to be in work and paying taxes than Brits (with an employment rate of 77% compared to 72% for UK nationals) and frequently do jobs which would otherwise remain unfilled.

3) UK businesses rely on EU workers in sectors such as financial services (6.4% of the workforce) and manufacturing (6.7%). A recent study found that curbing EU migration could cost the UK £60 billion in lost GDP by 2050.

4) EU citizens don’t exploit the British welfare state, they subsidise it. Mobile EU citizens are less likely to claim benefits than British citizens and, being generally younger and healthier, less likely to use the NHS. As a result, they make a major net contribution to the public finances of the UK.

5) Trade and labour mobility go together and the EU Single Market – Margaret Thatcher’s great European legacy –wouldn’t work without it. As the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills says:

The Single Market is vital to the UK’s prosperity. It gives UK business access to the world’s largest market with 500 million people generating about £10 trillion economic activity. European markets account for half of the UK’s overall trade and foreign investments. As a result, around 3.5 million jobs in the UK are linked to the export of goods and services to the EU.

* Giles Goodall is a Lib Dem European Parliamentary Candidate for South East England.

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31 Comments

  • Freedom of movement in the EU means absolutely fantastic opportunities for all of us.
    We should stop talking about ‘migrants’ in the same way as we don’t talk of ‘migrants’ from Norfolk to Suffolk.

  • jedibeeftrix 20th Oct '13 - 10:53am

    “We should stop talking about ‘migrants’ in the same way as we don’t talk of ‘migrants’ from Norfolk to Suffolk.”

    Ahem, slight problem there: We remain european’s only in the sense of our geography, whereas being British is a shared political identity that legitimises common rights and responsibilities.

  • “We remain european’s only in the sense of our geography, whereas being British is a shared political identity that legitimises common rights and responsibilities.”

    That’s not a statement of fact. It’s a statement of what you’d like to be the case. There’s a big difference.

  • jedibeeftrix 20th Oct '13 - 12:20pm

    funny that, the statement would appear to apply equally to you in reverse.

    either way, we’ll have a pretty good idea over who is right in about nine months time. 😉

  • “Ahem, slight problem there: We remain european’s only in the sense of our geography, whereas being British is a shared political identity that legitimises common rights and responsibilities.”

    This statement is factual wrong. As a result of parliament passing the Maastricht treaty, all British citizens are citizens of the European Union. Hence, to correct the above it is a case of “being European Union citizens is a shared political identity that legitimises common rights and responsibilities”.

    Anyone who has a problem with that is disagreeing with a decision of parliament and the acceptance of parliamnet’s decisions – even when we peraonally disagree with them – is a fundamental basis of the “shared political identity” of all who are British.

  • Richard Dean 20th Oct '13 - 3:18pm

    We are such a “shared British identity” that the Scottish want to leave, the Welsh would possibly like to follow, and the Birmingham, Cornish, and Norfolk accents are so different that it’s difficult for one to understand the other!

    The “shared British identity” is an illusion created by those in power who want to manipulate the population, such as by taking it to war.

  • Richard Dean 20th Oct '13 - 3:51pm

    The plain fact is that our true “shared identity” is European as much as it might be “British”.

    We share a history of colonialism and infighting with several other major European countries – think of the Spanish, Italian, French, Dutch, and Portuguese Empires. Much of our language derives from Latin, just as many other European languages do. Our political and legal institutions are very similar to those developed on mainland Europe – we have broadly similar parliaments, broadly similar approaches to crime. Our struggles for freedom have been similar, and for workers’ rights. Our expectations for prosperity and our feelings that it should be shared are similar. Our history is very much intertwined with continental Europe, not only through war but also through trade and social ties.

    Even our politicians use Europe in the same way as many Europeans do – as a scapegoat for their own failings!

  • Steve Comer 20th Oct '13 - 4:03pm

    Well said Richard and Paul!
    Liberal Democrats need to say this sort of thing more often, there is far too much complacent rubbish spouted about ‘Britishness’ from all in the Westminster Village and the London based media. Yet we too fall into the trap, I went to a fringe meeting at Glasgow Conference and heard a Lib Dem peer say in effect “we want to preserve the UK – err because we ‘do!” No attempt to engage in argument, no discussion, just a bland statement with no evidence to back it up. Have we forgotten that the current boundaries of the UK do not go back a thousand years, but only to the partition of Ireland that Lloyd George and Michael Collins negotiated in the 1920s?
    We were the party of Home Rule, yet it seems we’ve joined the Tories and Labour as little unionists now. England and Scotland will be friendly neighbours united by a (mostly!) common language and family ties regardless of what happens in next year’s referendum (as is the case with Ireland). Most Lib Dems I speak to are quite relaxed about the outcome of the Scottish referendum next year, and if we all stay in the EU we’ll still have free movement of labour between England and Scotland..
    Yet it seems our MPs will all be sent north to defend the political status quo next year! I just hope the Lib Dems who want to break the centralised power of Westminster get organised on the other side of the debate before we all get tarred with the unionist establishment brush..

  • Of the five reasons Giles gives, the one I have difficulties with is “4) EU citizens don’t exploit the British welfare state, they subsidise it.”

    When I work elsewhere in the EU, I don’t claim benefits, because I’m a UK resident and hence benefits and taxation are between me and the UK government. Likewise I don’t subsidise the welfare state of the countries I work in to any great extent, because other than VAT, I pay the majority of my taxes to HMRC. So my presence in an EU country is neither a positive or a negative with respect to the financing of their welfare systems. The only area where I might have an impact is that I would only use the local health service in an emergency, everything else could wait until I was in the UK. I would expect that mobile EU citizens would have a similar usage pattern with the NHS.

    However, when I worked in the UK for a French company, I was subsidising the French welfare state!
    This was because although I paid my taxes in the UK, profits from the UK operation were repatriated to France, where they were taxed. Hence the French government were receiving tax revenues derived from my labour, without incurring any liability to provide welfare benefits to me.

  • I note that a follow up article in the Telegraph “112,000 EU migrants seeking British jobs” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/10378558/112000-EU-migrants-seeking-British-jobs.html ) published on Oct-15, has had a correction added on Oct-20:

    “This story was amended on 20 October to correct a mistake in the original version. The 112,000 European citizens referred to in the Commission report were originally said to be claiming JobSeeker’s Allowance. In fact, the report said that they have registered at JobCentres as seeking employment; it did not say that they are claiming unemployment benefit. According to the most recent estimates from the UK Government, around 60,000 EU citizens are claiming unemployment benefit in Britain.”

    The Telegraph claims the report, upon which the news stories were based, was commissioned by Lazlo Andor, the EU employment commissioner, is due to be publish soon. I suspect that it might get read by a wider audience than would otherwise have been the case…

  • Richard Dean 20th Oct '13 - 5:39pm

    Just because something might happen in nine months, doesn’t mean we should stop debating it now. Quite the reverse. But anyway, what is happening nine months from now, around July 20 2014?

  • @Roland. There’s an excellent piece in the Sunday Times today http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/National/article1329817.ece (paywall, obv). I’ll give you just one paragraph from it:

    “According to official figures, more than 10,000 British citizens — about one-tenth of the total expat population — receive unemployment benefit of up to £23,318 a year subsidised by German taxpayers. More than 90% of them have been deemed fit to work.”

    It seems that things might not be as you suggest.

  • Richard Dean 20th Oct '13 - 6:20pm

    Since when was May the same as July?

  • jedibeeftrix 20th Oct '13 - 6:49pm

    it isn’t.

    i didn’t see the lapse as significant enough to alter the framing of the point, do you?

  • Richard Dean 20th Oct '13 - 7:17pm

    Typical sloppy thinking from the anti-Europeans! Or maybe they just can’t count? Next we’ll have them making absurd claims about loss of sovereignty! 🙂

  • Little Jackie Paper 20th Oct '13 - 7:25pm

    The appropriate antidote to unnecessary pessimism regarding EU immigration is, I suspect, not to be overly optimistic. The stark truth is that whilst it is true to say that there are a very real number of people who have gone and taken advantage of the opportunities an open EU has provided, that has been a double-edged sword. It is great that there have been people able to make the best of the EU. And we should never forget that blaming the EU can very easily be an escape route for our own government’s weaknesses and failure to stand up to vested interests, most notably on housing. And yet there are a great many out there for whom EU migration has not worked well. To deny the effect of wage arbitrage for example is to treat reality with contempt.

    What do we mean by migrant? After all, this is nothing new – in the early 1970s my uncle was in Germany working laying bricks when there was no work in the UK. My friend’s wife is Danish, she has been in the UK for 15 years, has paid tax, worked and has not used the welfare state speaks good English and has volunteered to help old people. Is she a, ‘problem?’ or has she undermined the UK? The people who know her would say not. And yet we should not pretend that there is not a world of difference between her and someone who comes here and makes extensive use of public services whilst not speaking a word of English having made contributions to the sum total of zero. Do we mean migrant as, ‘someone who comes here, puts in the hard years and is a good egg,’ do we mean, ‘transient labour,’ do we mean, ‘one and all?’ Or something else? It matters politically precisely because these distinctions are felt.

    At present engineering graduates have a six month unemployment rate in double digits. To tell the people on the rough end of that stat that the EU is needed to cover skill shortages and gaps that would be unfilled is hollow. Similarly there is no point telling those stuck with a scumbag BTL landlord that the effect of migration on the housing waiting list is minimal. Worth pointing out here of course that these things are perhaps to do with, ‘migration,’ rather than the EU per se.

    Identity is in many ways a red-herring here. The winners getting cheap labour and the like really don’t worry too much about that. A driving down of wages is popular with some in any culture. But it is just not enough to talk about net effect of EU migration – because the net is not what is felt. When people face a doctor’s waiting room full to bursting then the net effect doesn’t really matter.

    It is, of course, rich of Tory MPs and the right-wing media to talk as they did – as good little Thatcherites they likely love the diminution of organised labour, the potential for wage arbitrage and the ‘labour market flexibility’ that EU migration brings. But that commentary is a symptom of the wider problems, not the cause. Everyone loves, ‘their,’ migrant – but not the others. The EU migrants are no different in that important sense.

    So what to do? Well, as ever, it is always worth looking at how the rest of the EU manages. It may well be that there needs to be more, ‘national preference.’ And that might be no bad thing even if only as a statement that the EU’s strictures are not the only spirit to governance. It may well be that both sides of the argument will have to suck it up. It would upset powerful interests. The corporatists who have done well out of cheap labour and selling things to rich foreigners will squeal as much if not more than the euro-idealists. Perhaps the squealing is no bad thing. But in thinking about this, let’s use a rifle not a blunderbuss. If we see, say, health tourism as the problem then fine – but aim at the health tourists. If we see migrants wanting social housing a problem, fine – but aim at those looking for housing. If we see employers using the cheap labour as a problem, well…I’ll let the media think about that and tell us the answer.

    More generally, as I have said previously, the lack of vision is most troubling here. Technology, not politics or economics, will decide the fate of European (perhaps global) integration. We are probably less than 25 years away from real-time translation technology – that would be a genuine game-changer. Google translate, free of charge, is well on the way. The ever closer union will come through advance, not treaty. How do we see the world developing. Ultimately that will matter rather more that missing out on a child-minder.

  • Richard Dean 20th Oct '13 - 8:15pm

    Google Translate, free of charge, is here already. In the box of squares at top right of the Google screen. It makes mistakes, but is probably getting better all the time.

  • jedibeeftrix 20th Oct '13 - 8:33pm

    @ richard

    i am not an anti-european, at best you might state it anti-EUropean, a significant difference.

    as to sovereignty, some homework:

    http://www.parliamentarystrengthening.org/budgetmodule/additionalresources/self-test/Unit%201%20Self-Test.pdf

  • Richard Dean 20th Oct '13 - 8:59pm

    You do you academic homework, jedibeeftrix, I’ll do the reality. 🙂

  • Paul Haydon 20th Oct '13 - 9:50pm

    @Stuart Thanks for pointing out the Sunday Times piece. Also in the Sunday Telegraph, where interestingly the article refers to unemployed British citizens in Germany as “expats” rather than “migrants” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/10392257/Thousands-of-Britons-claim-dole-in-Germany.html

  • @Stuart , @Paul Haydon.

    I think the label “Mobile EU Citizen” is open to some interpretation, as is the Sunday Telegraph’s use of the word ‘expat’. My take on “Mobile Citizen” was someone who is working in a different EU country to the one they are normally resident in and pay taxes in. Thus differentiating them from those who have permanently moved their normal country of residence etc. to which the term migrant is more usually applied. Obviously, there are also shades of grey between the two extremes.

  • Michael Parsons 21st Oct '13 - 10:55am

    Maybe I am naive, but perhaps it is not just “registered jobseekers” but children, mothers and elderly in the migrant groups who impact on social costs.
    More to the point though, how come with a million unemployed (orunder-emplpoyed) young people and notwithstanding free State education (until Coalition times, of course) for a century, how come we are talking about “skill shortages”? There lies the scandal and the need for remedy. Or is English IQ and educability generally lower than that of other nations?

  • Pleeeeease don’t use the fact that Brits go on holiday in the EU as an argument for free movement rules! It smacks of desperation and is wide open to counter-arguments that people just as happily go on holiday to the US, Australia, the Caribbean and indeed anywhere else where we don’t have restrictions. Yes it’s a pain to have border checks and visas, but let’s not forget we have border checks anyway in the EU from not being in Schengen. There’s also an argument to be made that those suffering from the perceived negative impact of immigration (ie ‘they steal our jobs so we’ve got no money’) are those that don’t have the resources to take advantage of nice middle class holidays anyway. I support your core premise and I’m far from being a eurosceptic, but I really think the ‘pro-EU’ camp needs to offer more than easier holidays and low roaming fares as reasons to stay in the EU!

  • Lists like this seem to be popular with Lib Dems but what practical use are they? The reason I ask is that I don’t think people vote because of lists of ‘facts’ so much as gut emotion based on personal experience and that of friends and others that they identify with. As Giles is standing for the European Parliament I hope he can somehow translate this list into something that strikes an emotional chord with the electorate. That will be a difficult task because so many are acclimatised to dismissing as spin anything said by politicians that they don’t already emote with and the Lib Dems start from a low base in this regard.

    To compound matters there are obvious problems with the list that I’m sure opponents are quite capable of pointing to. For example Labour might say “[they] frequently do jobs which would otherwise remain unfilled” simply means ‘unfilled at a living wage’ while Farage might point out that the list entirely leaves out the impact of mass migration on property availability and cost.

    I am constantly surprised at what an uncertain note Lib Dems sound on Europe; the dismal performance in the last few Euro elections suggest that I am not alone in that view! However, I live in hope.

  • I forgot to say that I completely agree with Michael Parsons.

  • Giles Goodall 22nd Oct '13 - 4:34pm

    @Michael Parsons: There are certainly problems in our education and training provision which lead to the skills gaps you mention, but we should address this issue on a rational basis rather than villifying others for filling those gaps. I emphasised this in my article and the point that ill-informed scaremongering about migrants merely detracts from such issues.

    @Tom McPhie: Brits going on holiday is not the main argument, Brits living, working and studying in other EU countries is. Still, it is the same right which allows us to do both with a minimum of hassle.

    @GF: I agree that we need an emotional narrative to pass these messages too, but the point of this article was to highlight the key facts which are so often ignored, yet are crucial to this debate.

    There is nothing uncertain about the Lib Dems on Europe: we are proudly and unapologetically the party of ‘in’ and are putting a strong case to that effect – now and in next year’s elections.

  • Giles Goodall 31st Oct '13 - 2:00pm

    As a short update, the Sun has today admitted its story was ‘inaccurate’ and had ‘no evidence’, printing the following correction http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/clarifications/5234365/Correction.html

  • 1) Brits benefit from EU free movement – which is a two-way street – as much as anyone. Around 1.4 million Brits live in other EU countries and the UK is a net exporter of ‘migrants’ to Spain and France. 25 million Brits holiday in other EU countries each year.

    So 1.4 million Brits live abroad compared to more than 4 million who came here over 10 years, leaving 2.5million unemployed (2.5+1.4 = 3.9 million), by your argument if unrestricted migration had not been encouraged by Labour and the LibDems in 2004, we might have had near zero unemployment now?

    And of course, no-one went on holiday to Europe prior to 1975 did they? How silly!

    2) EU citizens come to Britain to work: they are more likely to be in work and paying taxes than Brits (with an employment rate of 77% compared to 72% for UK nationals) and frequently do jobs which would otherwise remain unfilled.

    That does not make sense, 77% of 4 million (those that came over a 10 year period from 2004) would leave around 900,000 unemployed, that’s more than the 600,000 figure you claim is false!

    As for those jobs that would remain “unfilled” of course that wouldn’t have anything to do with rock bottom wages, terrible terms and conditions and incentives to remain on the dole, all fueled by mass immigration, would they! Get a grip and try looking out of the window now and again.

    3) UK businesses rely on EU workers in sectors such as financial services (6.4% of the workforce) and manufacturing (6.7%). A recent study found that curbing EU migration could cost the UK £60 billion in lost GDP by 2050.

    That particular study, like every other study the Lib Dems like to quote, is a joke, £60 billion lost by 2050?!?!? We can’t even predict growth over the next 12 months with any accuracy or reliability how can there be any credibility in a predication based over 35 years?!

    Further, the study excludes the cost of benefits paid to those, “natives” (the definition used in the report for those born and raised in the UK) who are unemployed due to your 77% employment rate, how much would that be worth to the Taxman, neither does it account for the amount of money received in income by migrants that then disappears abroad, never to grace our economy.

    And lastly, what of the lost revenue in taxes paid on extra low incomes?

    4) EU citizens don’t exploit the British welfare state, they subsidise it. Mobile EU citizens are less likely to claim benefits than British citizens and, being generally younger and healthier, less likely to use the NHS. As a result, they make a major net contribution to the public finances of the UK.

    Rubbish, on top of the 23% (your own figures) who are unemployed, what about the single, simple fact that every job taken by an immigrant is a job denied to a “native” (CEBR term), add the benefits paid to those 2.5 million to the negative column and see how your nett “benefit” stands.

    5) Trade and labour mobility go together and the EU Single Market – Margaret Thatcher’s great European legacy –wouldn’t work without it. As the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills says:

    The Single Market is vital to the UK’s prosperity. It gives UK business access to the world’s largest market with 500 million people generating about £10 trillion economic activity. European markets account for half of the UK’s overall trade and foreign investments. As a result, around 3.5 million jobs in the UK are linked to the export of goods and services to the EU.

    It’s funny that, the free market tends to work elsewhere in the world without the need for free movement of people.

    It’s also amazing how the figure has now grown to 3.5 million from the 3 million Vince started to spout 2 or 3 years ago, and he just happens to be the Minister of the very department now quoting these figures as fact (of course I wouldn’t dream of questioning his integrity, particularly after the Sky/Murdoch affair).

    Even then, with the EU having 4 workers committed in trade with the UK for every 1 in the Uk committed to trade with the EU, our free trade arrangement with the EU are far more secure than ever and curbing immigrating would benefit the UK immensely without any negative effect for the UK in the single market.

    This whole issue is just one of grotesque wealth re-distribution, from the poor in the UK to the even poorer in Eastern Europe, and you LibDems, who purport to stand behind the “working man” should be ashamed of yourselves.

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