Net migration up 20 per cent

Figures show that limiting how many can come into the UK doesn’t necessarily translate to a drop in

Net migration to the UK rose by more than 20 per cent last year, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics annual bulletin showed that net long-term immigration was 196,000, up by 33,000 from 2008. This brings immigration close to record levels.

The number of people arriving in the UK actually fell slightly, by 4 per cent, taking the number from 590,000 to 567,000. However, this was offset by the number of people leaving -- both foreign nationals and British citizens -- which dropped even further, by 13 per cent.

Why are so many more people choosing to remain in Britain? It's possible that foreign nationals living and working in the UK are concerned about the coalition's cap on immigration. Those with UK work permits or other forms of legal status, but not citizenship or "indefinite leave to remain", might be concerned that if they leave the UK re-entry will be problematic.

UK citizens also stayed put, with long-term emigration falling to 371,000 last year from 427,000 in 2008. Why could this be? Difficult economic times are usually a push factor for people to leave the country. Perhaps, in the recession, fewer people are willing to take the risk, or are keen to hang on to their jobs -- it's all speculation.

What is certain, however, is that this highlights a fundamental flaw in the notion of the immigration cap, which David Cameron claimed would bring immigration down into the "tens of thousands".

Fundamentally, limiting the number of people who can come to the UK does not necessarily translate to a drop in net migration. Quite apart from the issue of EU immigration (which will not be included in the cap), we can see that there are numerous other factors, such as people choosing not to leave.

The number of people granted settlement in the UK between June 2009 and June 2010 also rose by 37 per cent. Of these people, 68 per cent were dependants of those already living in the country.

While the coalition plans to tighten rules on English testing for spouses applying for visas, it is difficult to see how it could feasibly (and humanely) limit the number of dependants coming to the UK. There is an ongoing debate about student visas, too; the number granted in the same period went up by 35 per cent, to 362,015.

It's a complex picture, and one that is difficult to decipher. But these figures certainly demonstrate that arbitrarily limiting immigration will, in itself, do nothing to solve the perceived problems. The consultation on how to put the cap into action ends on 17 September -- it will be interesting to see what the report comes up with.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Does the UK care enough about climate change to admit it is part of the problem?

The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction.

“People tell me it’s ridiculous to be flying for a climate change project but you have to get real with it, I mean I can’t cycle across the Southern ocean,” says Daniel Price, an environmental scientist from London. As founder of Pole-to-Paris, Price is about to complete a 17,000km bike ride from the Antarctic to the Arc de Triomphe.

Price came up with the idea in an effort to raise public awareness of COP21, the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Paris next week. During the trip he’s faced a succession of set-backs: from the discovery that boats were prohibitively expensive, to diplomatic tensions scuppering his Russian visa plans. Yet the darkest moments were when he became overwhelmed by the magnitude of his own mission. “There were difficult times when I just thought, ‘What is the point of this’?” he says. “Cycling round the world is nowhere near enough to engage people.” 

As world leaders descend on Paris, many questions remain unanswered. Not least how much support developing nations will receive in tackling the effects of climate change. New research commissioned by Oxfam claims that such costs could rise to £1.7tn a year by 2050. But with cuts kicking in at home, the need to deliver “climate justice” abroad feels like a bigger ask than ever.

So does Britain really care enough about climate change to accept its full part in this burden? The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction. In September, however, it did pledge £5.8bn from the foreign aid fund to helping poorer nations combat climate change (twice that promised by China and the United States). And there’s evidence to suggest that we, as a public, may also care more than we think.

In America attitudes are much darker; in the dismissive words of Donald Trump “It’s called the weather”. Not least since, as a recent study proves, over the last twenty years corporations have systematically spread scepticism about the science. “The contrarian efforts have been so effective," says the author Justin Farrell, a Yale sociologist, "that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust.” 

And what about in China, the earth's biggest polluter? Single-party rule and the resulting lack of public discussion would seem to be favouring action on the environment. The government has recently promised to reach "peak" emissions by 2030, to quadruple solar installations, and to commit $3.1bn to help low-income countries adapt to the changing world. Christiana Figueres, the UN’s chief climate official, has even lauded the country for taking “undisputed leadership” on climate change mitigation.

Yet this surge of policy could mask the most troubling reality of all: that, when it comes to climate change, the Chinese are the least concerned citizenship in the world. Only 18 per cent of Chinese see the issue as a very serious problem, down 23 percentage points from five years ago, and 36 points behind the global median.

A new study by political economist Dr Alex Lo has concluded that the country’s reduced political debate could be to blame for the lack of concern. “In China popular environmentalism is biased towards immediate environmental threats”, such as desertification and pollution, Lo writes, “giving little impetus to a morally driven climate change movement”.

For the international community, all is well and good as long as the Chinese government continues along its current trajectory. But without an engaged public to hold it to account there’s always a chance its promises may fade into thin air.

So perhaps the UK’s tendency to moan about how hard it is to care about the (seemingly) remote impacts of climate change isn’t all bad. At least we know it is something worth moaning about. And perhaps we care more than we let on to each other.

Statistics published this summer by the Department of Energy and Climate Change reveal that three quarters of the British public support subsidies for renewable energy, despite only 10 per cent thinking that the figure is that high. “Even if the public think the consensus is not there, there are encouraging signs that it is,” says Liz Callegari, Head of Campaigns at WWF. “Concern for climate change is growing.”

As Price puts it, “You can think of climate change as this kind of marathon effort that we have to address and in Paris we just have to get people walking across the start line together”. Maybe then we will all be ready to run.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.