Is a cap on immigration a cap on growth?

Why business should be making the case for immigration.

David Cameron’s recent announcement that the coalition will introduce a series of tough benefit restrictions to deter Romanians and Bulgarians from coming to the UK in January will come as little surprise to most of the population and indeed may be welcomed by many. However what is becoming surprising is the one sided nature of the conversation on immigration. At a series of fringe event’s in partnership with the ACCA at this year’s political party conferences all parties conceded the necessity of immigration to support economic growth; to succeed in what David Cameron has called "the global race". 

The irony of the debate on immigration is that the statistics illustrate a different argument from the one being portrayed in the media. At the Conservative conference Jonathan Porters, director of the National Institute for Economic and social research drew reference to the recent Fiscal Sustainability report, published by the Office for Budget Responsibility which considered the impact of reducing migration to the tens of thousands. The report found that “in 50 years from now there would either be hundreds of billions of pounds more in the national debt or we would pay about two or one per cent more in taxes”. The economic case for immigration is often ignored by politicians in favour of populist anti immigration stance; as John Longworth, Director General of the British Chamber of Commerce noted immigration is essential “we need to be able to fill the gaps in the UK economy. This is not to say that business shouldn’t be actively engaged in training UK citizens but, with the best will in the world, it’s impossible to do that in a very short space of time. So, we’re in a position where by necessity we need to be able to import those skills. Preventing that from happening actually impedes the economy overall and makes us all poorer”.

In contrast with most other European countries, the UK attracts highly educated and skilled immigrants. In 2011, 32 per cent of recent EEA immigrants and 38 per cent of non-EEA immigrants had university degrees, compared with 21 per cent of the British adult population. But it isn’t just hard skills that Britain benefits from. As ACCA research has shown, business and finance leaders increasingly require international experience in order for them to perform effectively within a competitive market place. If businesses are to counter the negative press coverage they need to do more to demonstrate they are working hard to create opportunities for UK nationals.  “We need to massively commit to up-skilling our own population, which has been marginalised because of a lack of skills and training. A lot of industries already do a huge amount but until businesses begin to pull in the same direction, I don’t think we’ll fully get that resentment out of the press,” as suggested by Dr. Adam Marshall, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the British Chamber of Commerce. 

David Cameron’s recent announcement perpetuates the myth that immigrants come to the UK as "benefit tourists". This myth seems particularly misplaced given that the European Commission argued in a recent report that EU member states, including the UK, have been unable to provide evidence of mobile EU citizens representing an excessive burden on social security systems in the host Member States. On the contrary, they in fact make a positive fiscal contribution, especially in the UK where, according to a UCL study, recent EEA immigrants have on average contributed 34 per cent more in taxes than they have received as transfers. Recent immigrants from countries outside the EEA have contributed 2 per cent more in taxes than they have received as transfers. Also in a recent study by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration they found that recent immigrants (those who arrived after 1999 and who constituted 33 per cent of the overall immigrant population in the UK in 2011) were 45 per cent less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits than UK natives over the period 2000-11. They were also 3 per cent less likely to live in social housing. Furthermore the Centre of European Reform found that just 1.7 per cent of EU-8 are on Jobseeker’s Allowance. A far smaller proportion of EU-8 immigrants receive disability, pension, and child benefits than British people.  Very few European migrants live in social housing, and only 5 per cent receive housing benefit.

Immigration is becoming a policy area fuelled by sensation and not facts. If the public is to be convinced that immigration has positive consequences we must have more evidence based education and those who have benefited must do more to disseminate the message.  

The New Statesman in partnership with the ACCA will be producing a report on whether a cap on immigration is a cap on growth, it will be available from the 12 December both online and in the magazine.

 

Immigration is becoming a policy area fuelled by sensation and not facts. Photograph: Getty Images.
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North Yorkshire has approved the UK’s first fracking tests in five years. What does this mean?

Is fracking the answer to the UK's energy future? Or a serious risk to the environment?

Shale gas operation has been approved in North Yorkshire, the first since a ban introduced after two minor earthquakes in 2011 were shown to be caused by fracking in the area. On Tuesday night, after two days of heated debate, North Yorkshire councillors finally granted an application to frack in the North York Moors National Park.

The vote by the Tory-dominated council was passed by seven votes to four, and sets an important precedent for the scores of other applications still awaiting decision across the country. It also gives a much-needed boost to David Cameron’s 2014 promise to “go all out for shale”. But with regional authorities pitted against local communities, and national government in dispute with global NGOs, what is the wider verdict on the industry?

What is fracking?

Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, is the extraction of shale gas from deep underground. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into the earth at such high pressure that it literally fractures the rocks and releases the gas trapped inside.

Opponents claim that the side effects include earthquakes, polluted ground water, and noise and traffic pollution. The image the industry would least like you to associate with the process is this clip of a man setting fire to a running tap, from the 2010 US documentary Gasland

Advocates dispute the above criticisms, and instead argue that shale gas extraction will create jobs, help the UK transition to a carbon-neutral world, reduce reliance on imports and boost tax revenues.

So do these claims stands up? Let’s take each in turn...

Will it create jobs? Yes, but mostly in the short-term.

Industry experts imply that job creation in the UK could reflect that seen in the US, while the medium-sized production company Cuadrilla claims that shale gas production would create 1,700 jobs in Lancashire alone.

But claims about employment may be exaggerated. A US study overseen by Penn State University showed that only one in seven of the jobs projected in an industry forecast actually materialised. In the UK, a Friends of the Earth report contends that the majority of jobs to be created by fracking in Lancashire would only be short-term – with under 200 surviving the initial construction burst.

Environmentalists, in contrast, point to evidence that green energy creates more jobs than similar-sized fossil fuel investments.  And it’s not just climate campaigners who don’t buy the employment promise. Trade union members also have their doubts. Ian Gallagher, Secretary of Blackburn and District Trade Unions Council, told Friends of the Earth that: “Investment in the areas identified by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign [...] is a far more certain way of addressing both climate change and economic growth than drilling for shale gas.”

Will it deliver cleaner energy? Not as completely as renewables would.

America’s “shale revolution” has been credited with reversing the country’s reliance on dirty coal and helping them lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction. Thanks to the relatively low carbon dioxide content of natural gas (emitting half the amount of coal to generate the same amount of electricity), fracking helped the US reduce its annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 556 million metric tons between 2007 and 2014. Banning it, advocates argue, would “immediately increase the use of coal”.

Yet a new report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (previously known for its opposition to wind farm applications), has laid out a number of ways that the UK government can meet its target of 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 without necessarily introducing fracking and without harming the natural world. Renewable, home-produced, energy, they argue, could in theory cover the UK’s energy needs three times over. They’ve even included some handy maps:


Map of UK land available for renewable technologies. Source: RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision.

Will it deliver secure energy? Yes, up to a point.

For energy to be “sustainable” it also has to be secure; it has to be available on demand and not threatened by international upheaval. Gas-fired “peaking” plants can be used to even-out input into the electricity grid when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind is not so blowy. The government thus claims that natural gas is an essential part of the UK’s future “energy mix”, which, if produced domestically through fracking, will also free us from reliance on imports tarnished by volatile Russian politics.

But, time is running out. Recent analysis by Carbon Brief suggests that we only have five years left of current CO2 emission levels before we blow the carbon budget and risk breaching the climate’s crucial 1.5°C tipping point. Whichever energy choices we make now need to starting brining down the carbon over-spend immediately.

Will it help stablise the wider economy? Yes, but not forever.

With so many “Yes, buts...” in the above list, you might wonder why the government is still pressing so hard for fracking’s expansion? Part of the answer may lie in their vested interest in supporting the wider industry.

Tax revenues from UK oil and gas generate a large portion of the government’s income. In 2013-14, the revenue from license fees, petroleum revenue tax, corporation tax and the supplementary charge accounted for nearly £5bn of UK exchequer receipts. The Treasury cannot afford to lose these, as evidenced in the last budget when George Osborne further subsidied North Sea oil operations through increased tax breaks.

The more that the Conservatives support the industry, the more they can tax it. In 2012 DECC said it wanted to “guarantee... every last economic drop of oil and gas is produced for the benefit of the UK”. This sentiment was repeated yesterday by energy minister Andrea Leadsom, when she welcomed the North Yorkshire decision and described fracking as a “fantastic opportunity”.

Dependence on finite domestic fuel reserves, however, is not a long-term economic solution. Not least because they will either run out or force us to exceed international emissions treaties: “Pensions already have enough stranded assets as they are,” says Danielle Pafford from 350.org.

Is it worth it? Most European countries have decided it’s not.

There is currently no commercial shale-gas drilling in Europe. Sustained protests against the industry in Romania, combined with poor exploration results, have already caused energy giant Chevron to pull out of the country. Total has also abandonned explorations in Denmark, Poland is being referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to adequately assess fracking’s impact, and, in Germany, brewers have launched special bottle-caps with the slogan “Nein! Zu Fracking” to warn against the threat to their water supply.

Back in the UK, the government's latest survey of public attitudes to fracking found that 44 per cent neither supported nor opposed the practice, but also that opinion is gradually shifting out of favour. If the government doesn't come up with arguments that hold water soon, it seems likely that the UK's fracking future could still be blasted apart.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.