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People don’t leave London at the rate they once did

This is probably one reason that house prices are climbing. 

The Office for National Statistics just published its latest (deep breath) statistical bulletin on ‘Internal Migration, England & Wales, Year Ending June 2013’. It produces this document every year.

These things don’t exactly make great beach reads – but squint at them the right way, and you’ll find some pretty interesting insights. Much of the best stuff concerns how London relates to the rest of the UK. Consider.

You can see the story of a life in the times when people move.

Look at this chart, from last year’s document. It shows the percentage of people who move to a new local authority area at each age, from zero to 90+.

There's a small spike in early childhood, as young parents move so their offspring can have more space and/or get on the list for the right schools. Then things are pretty stable right through adolescence, until a much bigger spike, showing more than a fifth of 19 year olds switch locations – heading mostly, one assumes, to university.

There's another mini-spike at 22, as people start their careers, but then people gradually become less and less likely to move until, by middle age they’re overwhelmingly likely to stay put in a given area. That only changes at the end of life, presumably when frailty forces the elderly to move to care homes or to be near family. It's the circle of life.

London's population flows outwards.

The next two graphs show internal net migration - that is, the difference between the number of arrivals and the number of departures - from each region to the rest of England & Wales. Positive numbers mean more people are arriving; negative ones mean more people are departing.

And, as it turns out, the net migration out of London is by far the biggest figure. That's true, both in absolute numbers...

...and relative to population size. This is net interal migration, per thousand population:

But the rate at which that's happening has actually fallen.

In the year to June 2013, London’s net migration to the rest of England and Wales stood at around 55,000. But, according to figures from the city’s authorities, in 2006-7, the net outflow stood at 80,300; five years before that, it was 97,100. Look at this chart, showing arrivals, departures and the difference between them:

Over the last decade total number of those leaving has risen; but the number of those arriving has risen more. 

And London's population is still growing.

In the year to mid-2012, in fact, it increased by 1.3%, to 8.3 million. Partly this is because London is the main destination for international migrants to the UK (nearly two in five Londoners were born overseas); partly, it's a baby thing. London's birth rate in 2012 stood at 16.2 births per thousand people. In England and Wales as a whole, it was just 12.9.

At any rate, the net result of all this is that, after shrinking in the second half of the 20th century, London will soon be bigger than at any time since before the Blitz. This population increase is almost certainly one factor behind the city’s house price boom: we're just not building enough homes to keep up with rising demand.

Most people who leave London don't go very far.

In the year to June 2012, nearly a quarter of a million people (247,923) left the city for destinations elsewhere in England and Wales. Nearly two thirds of those, though, left for the surrounding regions: 40% of them went to the South East, 26% to the East.

Those figures, oddly enough, are roughly proportional to the share of London’s circumference each of the two regions occupies. The obvious reading is that a lot of those who leave the capital are only getting as far as the commuter belt. They're leaving the city; they’re not leaving its orbit.

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.

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Today's immigration figures show why the net migration target should be scrapped

We should measure different types of migration separately and set targets that reflect their true impact.

Today’s net migration figures show, once again, that the government has raised expectations of tackling migration and failed to deliver. This is a recipe for disaster. Today’s numbers run far in excess of 300,000 – three times over what was pledged. These figures don’t yet reflect the fallout from Brexit. But they do show the government needs to change from business as usual.

It has been the current strategy, after all, that led the British public to reject the European Union regardless of the economic risks. And in the process, it is leading the government to do things which err on the side of madness. Like kicking out international students with degrees in IT, engineering or as soon as they finish their degrees. Or doubling the threshold for investor visas, and in the process bringing down the number of people willing to come to Britain to set up business and create jobs by 82 per cent. Moreover, it has hampered the UK’s ability to step up during last year’s refugee crisis - last year Britain received 60 asylum applications per 1,000 people in contrast to Sweden’s 1,667, Germany’s 587 and an EU average of 260.

The EU referendum should mark the end for business as usual. The aim should be to transition to a system whose success is gauged not on the crude basis of whether overall migration comes down, irrespective of the repercussions, but on the basis of whether those who are coming are helping Britain achieve its strategic objectives. So if there is evidence that certain forms of migration are impacting on the wages of the low paid then it is perfectly legitimate for government to put in place controls. Conversely, where flows help build prosperity, then seeing greater numbers should surely be an option.

Approaching immigration policy in this way would go with the grain of public opinion. The evidence clearly tells us that the public holds diverse views on different types of migration. Very few people are concerned about investors coming from abroad to set up companies, create jobs and growth. Few are worried about students paying to study at British universities. On the other hand, low-skilled migration causes concerns of under-cutting among the low paid and pressure on public services in parts of the country that are already struggling.

The first step in a new approach to managing migration has to be to abolish the net migration target. Rather than looking at migration in the aggregate, the aim should be to measure different types of migration separately and set targets that reflect their true impact. In the first instance, this could be as simple as separating low and high skilled migration but in the long term it could involve looking at all different forms of migration. A more ambitious strategy would be to separate the different types of migration - not just those coming to work but also those arriving as refugees, to study or be reunited with their families.

Dividing different flows would not only create space for an immigration policy which was strategic. It would also enable a better national conversation, one which could take full account of the complex trade-offs involved in immigration policy: How do we attract talent to the UK without also letting conditions for British workers suffer? Should the right to a family life override concerns about poor integration? How do we avoiding choking off employers who struggle to recruit nationally? Ultimately, are we prepared to pay those costs?

Immigration is a tough issue for politicians. It involves huge trade-offs. But the net migration target obscures this fact. Separating out different types of immigration allows the government to sell the benefits of welcoming students, the highly skilled and those who wish to invest without having to tell those concerned about low skilled immigration that they are wrong.

Getting rid of the net migration target is politically possible but only if it is done alongside new and better targets for different areas of inward migration – particularly the low-skilled. If it is, then not only does it allow for better targeted policy that will help appease those most vocally against immigration, it also allows for a better national conversation. Now is the time for a new, honest and better approach to how we reduce immigration.

Phoebe Griffith is Associate Director for Migration, Integration and Communities at IPPR