Migrationwatch UK demonstrate that 4 out of 5 native British adult workers 'take more from economy than they put back'

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 30 August 2006

I've written a piece on 'A lemon tree of our own' - "Flying the flag" - about some of the changes I noticed when I went back to the UK. One of the principle ones was the way in which the debate surrounding immigration to the UK from EU citizens from Eastern Europe has reached a hysterical crescendo in the tabloid press. It seems that everything from hospital waiting lists, low wages, rising employment, rising unemployment, the pensions crisis, England's poor showing in the World Cup and the weather are the fault of this 'tide' of Eastern European immigrants. Still, I suppose those asylum seekers remaining in the UK will be glad the tabloid scapegoat heat is off of them for the moment.

Migrationwatch has been helping to fuel this debate with press release like the one they issued yesterday - "An optimum level for immigration". Quoting huge chunks from it this turned into the Daily Mail story "Four out of five migrants 'take more from economy than they put back'".

Unfortunately for Migrationwatch they had to include the following in the small print of their research paper attached to the press release:

We calculate that a worker must earn about £27,000 a year to make, on average, a positive contribution to GDP per head and a positive fiscal contribution over their lifetime. This, as it happens, is the average salary for those in full time employment. Only about 20% of the working age migrant population are earning this amount. A similar result would apply to the UK-born population. [My emphasis]

It isn't "as it happens" that people earning above the average wage make a net contribution to society, and that those below that level do not - that is the very definition of a progressive tax regime, that people who earn more, pay more, in order to support those who do not. The migrants Migrationwatch are talking about are not less productive than the native population, or even less productive than the many, many, migrants who have come before them - they simply slot into a capitalistic economic system where 20% of people earn a lot more than the other 80% do. On that understanding, four out of five people do not make a "net" contribution to the well-being of the British economy on paper, regardless of their origin.

I don't know, maybe I'm just more sensitive about this kind of thing now that I'm an economic migrant within the EU myself.

Keep up to date on my new blog