The House of Lords economic committee's report on immigration styles itself as an impartial and dispassionate statistical analysis and claims that such questions as the impact of migration on "cultural diversity and social cohesion... are outside the scope of our inquiry". This is a study which purports to stick to the hard economics.
If only it did. The report has been delivered with some staggering anti-immigration spin. Every statistical study that seems to suggest the negative effect of migrants has been emphasised and every piece of evidence that suggests a positive impact has been played down. It should also be noted that the conclusions of the report seem designed to bolster the Conservatives' policy of putting a cap on immigration from outside the EU. Perhaps that is not surprising given the background of some of the peers on the committee. But let us concentrate, rather, on what the report actually says.
First, the methodology. The report insists that GDP growth is a "misleading criterion for assessing the economic impacts of immigration on the UK". Is it? Presumably the report's authors would not suggest ignoring GDP growth rates when it comes to measuring national economic health. So why does overall GDP suddenly become such a "misleading" indicator when it comes to analysing the economic impact of immigration? The suspicion must be that this is because GDP figures show, unequivocally, that immigration has boosted our national economic performance.
Then there is the question of which sections of society gain most from immigration. The report says that the least-skilled UK residents are disadvantaged by the competition from better-motivated foreign workers. Yet this is not an argument for clamping down on immigration. It is not the fault of immigrants that sections of the domestic workforce are unmotivated. The solution surely lies in proper education for the home-grown workforce, not eliminating what the report's authors would presumably have us regard as "unfair" competition.
What about the other social effects of immigration? The report draws attention to the impact of immigration on house prices. But is migration really as significant a factor in this respect as shortage of supply and the cheap borrowing that has been available for most of the past decade? The answer is no. But the report is so intent on putting the case against immigration that it emphasises the migration factor in housing demand above all others.
The report concludes by arguing that "the economic benefits to the resident population of net immigration are small, especially in the long run". As John Maynard Keynes once observed: "In the long run, we are all dead." It seems strange to argue that, since the economic contribution of migrants might lessen as they become more settled, the focus of our political class today should be on cutting back on the numbers entering Britain to work.
The truth is that immigration has been of great economic benefit in recent years. Our public services, construction industry, agriculture and retailers rely to a considerable extent on immigrant labour. Immigrants teach in our schools, care for the elderly and pick our fruit. And despite the assertions of this report, there is little reason to believe the domestic workforce would be able to fill all these gaps. The NHS, for instance, would almost certainly collapse without migrant labour.
In short, we would all be worse off without the hard work of immigrants. To label this contribution "small" is not only economically dubious; many will find it downright insulting.Reuse content