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The Myth of the Immigrant Benefit-Moocher, Part Two

19 February 2013

1:24 PM

19 February 2013

1:24 PM

I am afraid, dear reader, that I have misled you. Yesterday’s post on immigrants and benefit-claimants contained an inaccuracy. I repeated a claim I’d seen in the Telegraph that there are almost 14,000 Polish-born people claiming unemployment benefit in Britain. This is not the case. The true picture of Polish benefit-dependency is very different.

There are, in fact, fewer than 7,000 Poles claiming the Job Seekers’ Allowance. Indeed, there are fewer than 13,000 JSA claimants from the “Accession Eight” countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Slovenia). Whatever else these eastern europeans have been doing in Britain, they’ve not been mooching off the benefits system. And it is a lie – dirty and simple – to suggest they are.  There are, in fact, twice as many benefit claimants from “old” europe as there are from “new” europe. (See Table 2 here for confirmation.)

To stick with the Poles for a moment. There are more than half a million Polish-born people living in the UK. Some 6,390 of them, according to this DWP report from last year, are claiming the JSA. A further 4,390 are receiving ESA and incapacity benefits and 800 take advantage of lone parent benefits. Poland is the only country from eastern europe that features in the top 20 nationalities in any of these categories. (Table 4, linked above. Of course, today’s figures may be a little different. But you get the general idea, I think.)

Now, perhaps Romanian and Bulgarian workers seeking better lives for themselves in Britain will avoid the Polish route but there seems little obvious reason for thinking so. Precedent is against the doom-sayers and panic-sowers. That does not mean their fears must prove mistaken but they’ve failed  – thus far anyway – to offer any persuasive analysis supporting their fears that Britain will be “swamped” by a tide of benefit-spongeing Bulgars.

But, but, but, splutter the critics, what about the services they consume? Don’t all these eastern european migrant workers seeking better, more prosperous lives for themselves cost the British state more than they give? Shouldn’t they only be allowed to remain in this country if they prove themselves net contributors? Whatabout this? Whatabout this? Whataboutery everywhere.

Fortunately some research has been done on this. A 2009 paper (there is little reason to suppose it out of date) by a collection of UCL academics provides some of the answers. Here they are:

Restricting analysis to those immigrants who have been in the UK for more than one year as A*’s eligibility for many benefits is limited for the first year in the UK, the study finds that A8 immigrants are about 60% less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and to live in social housing. Even if A8 immigrants had the same demographic characteristics of natives, they would still be 13% less likely to receive benefits and 28% less likely to live in social housing.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it. I suppose these findings will surprise some people. But they shouldn’t. Not really. After all, most immigrants from eastern europe are healthy young people. They’re not expensive pensioners or children. The average A8 immigrant is 25 years old. And well-educated. 35% of them were still in full-time education aged 21 (compared to 17% of native Britons). No wonder they are attractive to employers. No surprise, then, that the employment rate for A8 migrants is considerably higher than it is for natives. Many of them are working well-below their “pay grade”. This, of course, will change as those that stay work their way up.

Of course, many will not stay. They will contribute to Britain for a few years before returning home. Churn is an inescapable feature of the single european labour market. As for their contribution to the Treasury, the paper finds good news there as well:

The key results are that in each fiscal year since enlargement in 2004, A8 immigrants made a positive contribution to public finance. For instance, in the latest fiscal year, 2008-09, A8 immigrants paid 37% more in direct or indirect taxes than they received in public goods and services.

In that year, immigrants from Poland and other eastern european countries comprised 0.91% of the population, commanded 0.60% of government expenditure and contributed 0.96% of government revenues.

Those that do stay, putting down roots, having a family and so on will doubtless consume a greater share of public services in the future. But that will be offset, one imagines, by the fact that, being well-educated and hard-working, by the increased taxes  – direct and indirect – they pay as they move from “routine and semi-routine occupations” to “managerial and professional occupations” more in keeping with their backgrounds and talents.

Politicians are always talking about the importance of a well-educated workforce. And rightly so. A good part of London’s economic supremacy is built upon the fact that its workforce contains a higher proportion of degree-holders than any other British city. It is perverse to discourage or complain about an influx of educated, motivated workers streaming to Britain from eastern europe. Their presence, as I have said before, is an economic stimulus in itself. Moreover, I think you can also look upon those that choose to stay as a long-term investment in Britain.

That’s a good thing and something to be celebrated rather than a cause for despair or nativist revulsion. Immigration from eastern europe has been good for Britain.

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