Analysing the costs and benefits of immigration. Photo: Getty
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Yes, EU immigrants do have a positive impact on public finances

The academics behind a study that shows EU migrants make a net contribution to our economy on the positive impact of recent immigrants.

The impact of immigration on Britain’s tax and welfare system is perhaps the most important economic issue in the debate over the country’s relationship with the EU and its principle of free movement. There are claims that immigrants from Europe take advantage of the UK’s benefit and health system. This has led to political pressure to limit immigrants' access to benefits and public services and even restrict immigration from the European Economic Area countries.

But, despite the controversy surrounding this issue, evidence for how much immigrants take out of and contribute to the public purse in Britain is surprisingly sparse. Our new research published by the Royal Economic Society in the Economic Journal aims to fill this void.

Based on the UK Labour Force Survey and a multitude of government sources, we calculate the overall fiscal contribution of native Britons and immigrants. Our findings show that European immigrants to the UK have paid more in taxes than they received in benefits, helping to relieve the fiscal burden on UK-born workers and contributing to the financing of public services.

To do this, we assign individuals their share of cost for each item of government expenditure. We then identify their contribution to each source of government revenue. We distinguish between immigrants from the European Economic Area (EEA), and those from outside Europe. Additionally, we break down the EEA group into immigrants from the Eastern and Central European countries that joined the EU since 2004 (known as A10 countries), and immigrants from the rest of EEA.

Positive net contribution

Our findings show that immigrants to the UK who arrived since 2000, and for whom we observe their entire migration history, have made consistently positive fiscal contributions regardless of their area of origin. Between 2001 and 2011 recent immigrants from the A10 countries contributed to the fiscal system about 12 per cent more than they took out, with a net fiscal contribution of about £5bn.

At the same time the overall fiscal contributions of recent European immigrants from the rest of the EU totalled £15bn, with fiscal payments about 64 per cent higher than the value of public services they used. Immigrants from outside the EU countries made a net fiscal contribution of about £5.2bn, thus paying into the system about 3 per cent more than they took out.

In contrast, over the same period, native British people made an overall negative fiscal contribution of £616.5bn. The fiscal balance of overall immigration to the UK between 2001 and 2011 amounts therefore to a positive net contribution of about £25bn, over a period in which the UK has run an overall budget deficit.

Our analysis thus suggests that immigrants arriving since the early 2000s from Europe have made a net contribution to Britain’s public finances. This is a reality that contrasts starkly with the view often maintained in public debate that immigrants are a drain on the economy.

State benefits

This conclusion is further supported by our evidence on the degree to which immigrants receive tax credits and benefits compared with natives. Recent immigrants are 43 per cent (17 percentage points) less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits. These differences are partly attributable to the fact that immigrants are generally working-age men and coming to the UK to work. However, even when compared with natives of the same age, gender composition and education, recent immigrants are still 39 per cent less likely than natives to receive benefits.

Additionally, our research points at the strong educational background of immigrants. For instance, while the percentage of natives with a degree was 24 per cent in 2011, that of EEA and non-EEA immigrants was 35 per cent and 41 per cent, respectively. Similarly, about one in two British born individuals fall into the “low education” category (defined as those who left full-time education before 17), while only 21 per cent of EEA immigrants and 23 per cent of non-EEA immigrants do so.

Most immigrants arrive in the UK after completing their education abroad, and thus at a point in their lifetime where the discounted net value of their future net fiscal payments is positive. If the UK had to provide each immigrant with the level of education they have acquired in their home country (and use productively in the UK, as natives do), the costs would be substantial.

Our estimates indicate that recent immigrants endowed Britain with productive human capital between 2000 and 2011 that would have cost £6.8bn in spending on education. This aspect is often neglected in the debate about the costs and benefits of immigration.

Christian Dustmann is director at the Centre for Research and Analysis on Migration (CReAM) at University College London; Tommaso Frattini is assistant professor of economics at the University of Milan

Christian Dustmann receives funding from European Research Council (ERC). Tommaso Frattini does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.