Powerful forces try to rubbish positive immigration report

The Telegraph led with:

"£120bn cost of Labour's immigration policy"

The Sun went with:

"Immigration has cost UK nearly £115bn since the mid-1990s"

You wouldn't have thought this report actually found European migrants arriving in the UK since 2000 contributed £20 billion to the economy in their first decade in the country.

Andrew Green of Migration Watch, who was recently handed a peerage to placate Tory backbenchers, went on the Today programme to say that a future report might find differently. That was his actual response to data: that it is false on the basis that things may be different in the future. The fact the man is treated like a respectable commentator, let alone a peer, tells you a great deal about the status of debate in this country.

The research by the UCL Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration, which goes by the rather unfortunate name of CReAM, has for the second time confirmed immigrants are a lifesaver to the British economy. Without them, paying down the deficit would be much harder. That's now the settled view of academics and experts in the OECD and the Office of Budget Responsibility.

£20 billion is enough to cover the annual cost of the Home Office and Ministry of Justice combined. But it's not the end of the story. Migrants are particularly beneficial to the UK because we do not pay to educate them. They usually arrive fully educated and trained. So we get all the benefits of their work and none of the costs. Researchers found the value of education of immigrants to the UK labour market paid for in their home country was £6.8 billion. By contributing to pure public services, like defence, they've saved the UK taxpayer £8.5 billion since 2000.

The report usefully splits migrants into three groups: Those from the original 15 EU countries, those from the ten new accession countries and non-Europeans. The first contributed £15 billion to the economy, paying in 64% more in taxes than they received in benefits. The second group contributed £5 billion (12% more). Non-European migrants contributed about £5 billion to the UK economy. The group which took out more than it put in was Brits, who were a drag on the economy to the tune of £617 billion.

It was when researchers stretched out the timeframe of the study to 1995 that right-wing newspapers found an opportunity to paint immigration as a drag on the British economy. Looking at 1995 to 2001, non-European migrants contributions were actually nine per cent lower than natives. But then, natives were still negative, to the tune of £591 billion. And European migrants were still net contributors, putting in ten per cent more than natives.

To single out the one strand of the research which corroborates anti-immigrant views is a quite conscious attempt to mislead one's audience.

Even during the expanded time window critics seem to prefer, migrants brought £49 billion of human capital to the UK labour market and contributed £82 billion to fixed or pure public goods.

The weight of the evidence on the economic benefit of immigration is now so substantive that the debate can be laid to rest. This country is spectacularly lucky. We get people at the point in their life when they are net contributors, skip the bit at the beginning of their lives where you actually have to educate them, and very often the bit at the end where they cost the state in medical care. Meanwhile, our own older people leave Britain to go live in Spain in their hundreds of thousands, at precisely the stage of life where they are about to cost the state more. The fact Britain could be such a winner from this situation and still complain about it is testament to the stubborn negativity of many people on this island.

The real concern one should have about this scenario is what it does to the country of origin, especially in the case of central and eastern European states, but also increasingly from places like France, Spain and Greece. They pay to educate their people only to see them use the skills they gain elsewhere. If we had a sane, considerate debate in this country, that would be the issue of concern. Instead, it is our own imagined victimhood.

Without the economics to fall back on, anti-immigration campaigners, politicians and newspapers want to make up the facts. Instead, they should show some honour and fall back on the real argument that motivates them: cultural purity. There is no shame or offence in arguing that they do not want all these foreign cultures coming and changing the social landscape in the UK. It is a valid point to make and not a racist one. But let them argue it, rather than pretend it is about the economy. Economically, their policy proposal would do this country extraordinary harm. It's up to them to show that the cultural benefits would be worth it.

Thankfully, the argument for cultural improvement through immigration will prove as strong as the one for economic improvement, as anyone who survived British dining in the 70s will tell you. But at least let's have that debate – the real debate which motivates so much anti-immigrant thought – and lay to rest the economic argument.

Any politician going into the next election promising to cut immigration is committing herself to making British families poorer.