The recent European Parliamentary elections have been hailed by many as a victory for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). The results of the election reflect a growing concern over immigration, particularly from the European Union.
One controversial UKIP campaign poster claimed that 26 million Europeans were after British jobs. The party was one of many groups to warn of the flood of Romanians and Bulgarians set to come to the UK after working and benefits restrictions on nationals of these 2 countries were lifted on 1 January.
But when the flood gates were opened on New Year’s Day, only 2 Romanians arrived on the first flight from Bukarest with their sights set on working in the UK. In fact, last month Labour Force Survey data revealed that in the first 3 months of 2014, the number of Romanians and Bulgarians in Britain actually shrunk by 3000. The number of new National Insurance Number registrations for Romanians in the 2012-13 financial year also fell by 22% on the previous year. Figures like these severely discredit the forecasted effect of the lifting of the restrictions, which has ranged from 8,000 to 385,000 Romanian and Bulgarian arrivals.
Political campaigns, tabloid news and ‘forecasts’ all contribute to a huge gap between public perceptions and reality. An Ipsos MORI study reported last year, for example, that while the average Briton thinks that 31% of the country’s population are immigrants, the figure is actually 13%. Similarly, the public believes that 24% of the population are Muslim, while the actual proportion is just 5%.
But the important thing is not whether numbers increase or decrease – to quote Homer Simpson, ‘people can come up with statistics to prove anything. 14% of people know that.’ There is no denying that immigration has made the UK far more diverse than it was a decade ago. More important is the positive contribution that this diversity has to offer.
Despite fears that migrants are a drain on the economy, they actually put 34% more into public finances than they take out, according to the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration at UCL. In contrast, tax paid by natives accounts for just 89% of the welfare they receive. Immigrants are also 45% less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits, are more likely to hold a degree (32% of European Economic Area migrants compared with 21% of natives), and are 3% less likely to live in social housing – far from the benefits ‘freeloaders’ they are portrayed to be!
We need to question the facts behind our fears – we may find that they are forged mainly from fiction.