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.
Show Hide image

Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital