This week we were treated to
the news that ‘opposition to immigration drops when people are told about the
economic benefits of net migration’.
Former Labour Immigration
Minister Barbara Roche – who presided over much of Labour’s immigration
shambles – claimed that ‘when the full facts of migration are presented to the
British people, they begin to recognise that simple truth’.
She went on ‘Those opposed to
immigration ignore what for them is an inconvenient truth. It's not that we
cannot afford more immigration, rather that we cannot afford not to have
immigration’, as reported by The
The problem for Barbara Roche
and her new immigration think tank Migration Matters, is that the opinion poll says nothing of the sort.
There are two problems with
this poll and The Observer’s report of it.
First, the claim that respondents were told the ‘truth’ about
immigration in this poll. Secondly, the opinion poll actually finds that people
continue to oppose the current level of net migration even when fed a one sided
account of the economic benefits of immigration; indeed, only 10 % supported
the current level.
Let us first take in turn the
claims incorporated in the opinion poll questions.
The poll is based on selected
quotes from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) which, rather bizarrely, is
introduced with a question asking the public whether, in principle, it was a
good idea to set it up. In case they
are in any doubt they are told in the question that “It is
headed by Robert Chote, who used to run a widely-respected think tank
specialising in tax issues.”
Respondents are then asked four questions based on selected
extracts from a recent report on the government’s fiscal position This is described as a “detailed analysis
The first poll “question”
states that ‘immigration boosts growth’. This is incredibly simplistic.
Immigration does not boost GDP per head to any significant extent because it is
offset by the increase in population. As the House of Lords Select Committee on
Economic Affairs said:
“We have found no evidence for the argument, made by the government, business
and many others, that net immigration – immigration minus emigration –
generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population”.
“question” claims that ‘migration increases tax revenues and does not add much
to age-related spending pressures as migrants tend to be of working age and use
services like the NHS less.’ While in the immediate and short term this may be
true. What it fails to mention is that the ageing process applies to immigrants
as well, and therefore immigration can only ever be a means of buying time. Indeed, the OBR themselves stated ‘This effect would reverse over a longer time horizon, when those immigrants who
remain in the UK reach old age’.
Not only are the questions
slanted but they are also highly selective. Another poll “question” states ‘The
OBR goes on to say that without continuing immigration, Government debt would
be far higher than it is.’ What it fails to mention is that to keep government
debt at 40% of GDP requires a level of net migration that will increase our
population to 88 million by 2060. Yes – an increase in
population of 25 million people!
The second major issue with
this article and Roche’s claims is that the poll in fact shows a very healthy
degree of scepticism towards the economic claims of the OBR reflected in the
questions. Indeed one “question” goes so
far as to say “You say you don't believe the analysis. But if
you were convinced that it is valid and had to make the choice, which would you
prefer?” It rather looks as though this
question was added later when they found that 39% didn’t believe the analysis
and another 27% didn’t know. The public
were right to be sceptical because the OBR estimate quoted was based on
reducing net migration to zero whereas the government’s policy is to reduce it
to “tens of thousands”
Despite the way in which these
questions were posed and the selective use of a report prepared for other
purposes by a body with no particular expertise on immigration they could only
find 10% of the respondents to agree “that it would be best for Britain to
continue to admit broadly the same number of immigrants as we do today”.
We advise that readers have a
look at the full results of the poll which can be found here.