Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
I lumbered downstairs to get chocolate cleverly disguised as breakfast cereal, when I saw two leaflets coyly resting in my hallway. From the stark concoction of yellow and purple, I immediately recognised them as leaflets from the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), who had meteorically risen to second place in the recent Eastleigh by-election. The plainly-worded leaflet contains many fallacies and flashes of scaremongering. I do not, in general, support British membership of the European Union (EU), but I vehemently dislike bad arguments, especially when they are made in favour of my preferred position.
The klaxons immediately ring and rumble, as the leaflet bellows:
Next year, the EU will allow 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians to come to the UK.
This statement is technically true, but its nonsensical undertones are revealed with a passing thought. The current EU rules means that anyone within the EU, unless specifically banned by the Home Secretary and currently excising Bulgaria and Romania, can easily move and work in any EU country they wish to. This concept is fully realised by the Schengen area, which establishes “a territory where the free movement of persons is guaranteed”. The fact that there are 503 million people in the EU, but they clearly haven’t all packed up and stood in a chaotic line at London Heathrow, should demonstrate how ridiculous UKIP are being with that statement.
After asking “can we cope with another influx of people needing jobs, housing, schools, hospitals and benefits?” the leaflet goes through a flurry of groups, claiming that the inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania in these rules will hit them hard.
If you’re young – fewer jobs available.
This is the classic ‘lump of labour’ fallacy: which assumes there are a certain number of jobs in an economy. The presence of new immigrants, who spend money and use services, requires people to do those jobs, thereby increasing employment. Despite UKIP’s concerns about “another influx”, the overall unemployment rate declined during the last such ‘influx’, and the youth (18-24) unemployment rate remained steady between 2000 and 2008, pulsating around 12%, before ratcheting upwards at the start of the 2008 financial crisis.
If you’re sick – pressure on our hospitals and clinics.
There is no specific claim being made by this point, but Migration Watch UK, an immigration-focussed pressure group, recognises that “the health and social work sector employs one in seven of all immigrants in the UK, and was the biggest employer of migrants between 2002 and 2008”. Immigration does not necessarily lead to increased pressure on health services, as greater numbers of medical staff work to decrease pressure on those services.
If you’re old – longer queues for care
Reducing waiting times for healthcare is a major aim of the coalition government, and is often considered a crowning achievement of the last Labour government. If it were immediately true that more immigration meant longer waiting times, then we should have seen an upsurge in waiting times, thanks to what UKIP call “mass immigration”. However, reality dissents from their rhetoric.
If you’re in work – wages going down, not up
A large proportion of the low-skilled jobs created in the boom years didn’t go to the British working class but to people from overseas.
However, immigrant labour complements, rather than compete with, domestic labour. Due to universal education, the skills of domestic workers are normally distributed, with few people having very low or very high skills. Immigrant labour, on the other hand, will usually be either highly skilled or lowly skilled. Professor Ben Powell explains this point brilliantly in the following video for Learn Liberty.
Immigration may have an almost imperceptible, negative effect on the lowest earners, but it certainly has a positive effect on wages overall.
If you’re on benefits – less money to go round
Firstly, there is not a set pot of money that may run dry. It is not as if there are a specified number of benefit cheques, and they are distributed on the basis of first-come-first-served. The Department for Work and Pensions does have a budget, but the provision of benefits is a legal requirement on the government, and so the department cannot simply emblazon a banner of ‘We’ve run out of money’. Secondly, this point assumes that EU immigrants have a significantly higher unemployment rate than domestic workers. According to the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford:
Between 1993 and 2011, foreign-born workers (both male and female) experienced higher average unemployment rates than their UK-born counterparts. However, in 2009 and 2010 the unemployment rate of foreign-born workers (both male and female) converged with that of UK-born men, while increasing slightly in 2011.
If you’re on a housing list – you may have to wait forever
There has been much furore over the possible impact that immigration has on housing lists. Shelter, a campaigning charity on issues of housing and homelessness, finds in their Immigration and Housing Factsheet that:
The House of Lords report highlights that, on average, migrants demand less housing than UK-born people.18 However, those migrants who decide to stay in the UK on a long-term basis, choose to live in smaller households over time, meaning that their housing demand will be more similar to that of UK residents.
Also, the Equality and Human Rights Commission found in 2009 that there is “no evidence that new arrivals in the UK are able to jump council housing queues”. John Healey, then-Housing Minister, described it as a “myth” that certain groups were losing in terms of housing allocation. The EHRC found that only 11% of new arrivals required help finding accommodation – almost of all whom were asylum seekers, rather than economic immigrants from the EU.
UKIP say they are the “only mainstream party committed to getting the EU out of Britain”. However, their support for that policy appears to be dependent on a number of myths and fallacies surrounding the economics and social consequences of immigration. UKIP should be exiled back to the fringe of politics.
Update (2/3/2013 15:23): I have removed “and the government or other institutions can therefore enact policies to divide up the jobs between different groups of people.” from the first sentence in the ‘If you’re young‘ section. As Ed (in the comments) pointed out, I was assigning a position to UKIP which they evidently did not take.
The last sentence of the ‘If you’re sick‘ section was originally “It seems strange for UKIP to highlight that migrants get ill, but ignore they are often helping you recover too.” I believed this didn’t illuminate my point effectively, and on reflection, seemed cheap and vacuous.