Socialist Worker

How the right has twisted migration figures to whip up racism

A new report has exposed how ‘facts’ about immigration have been twisted to paint migrants as a burden. The reality is very different, writes Ken Olende

Issue No. 2430

Border agent and cop during an immigration raid

Border agent and cop during an immigration raid

Immigration is good for bosses and bad for workers—or so we are told.

Apparently migrants lower wages, “steal” jobs from “native” workers and put a bigger burden on services. 

Meanwhile bosses get cheap labour and can use that to force all workers to accept low pay.

Much of the left has swallowed some of this rhetoric.

They say if we ignore people’s “legitimate” concerns, more will turn to the hard right Ukip.

Of course workers are worried about their wages being pushed down or services being undermined.

But migrants aren’t responsible for any of that—bosses and governments are.

A new report has demolished the argument that immigrants put a burden on the economy.

The Fiscal Effects of Immigration to the UK report was published by University College London Centre for Research And Analysis of Migration (Cream).

Researchers focused on the significant increase in immigration to Britain that has taken place since 1995.

The Cream report questioned how previous research has portrayed immigration.

For instance, right wingers often claim that migrants come to Britain and “take” all the new jobs. But as the report showed, there isn’t a fixed number of jobs to be filled.

Between 1995 and 2001 the number of jobs went up by 12.8 percent while the working age population rose by 10.2 percent.


Around 2.3 million of new jobs created since 1995 went to migrants. 

The report pointed out that this is “not surprising since immigration accounts for nearly the entire growth of the UK population”.

Meanwhile around one million new jobs created over the same period went to British-born workers—despite the fact that its population size is unchanged.

Importantly the report exposed how the definition of “migrant” affects whether they are “contributing” or not. So, children born in Britain to migrant parents are counted as migrants when they are in school.

Yet when they go to work and start paying taxes they become “British”.

The Cream report added that calculating the “cost” of migrants to Britain doesn’t consider that the cost of educating them was borne elsewhere.

Socialist Worker is for an end to all immigration controls. We think ordinary people should have the right to go where they please—regardless of whether that benefits the economy or not.

But that doesn’t mean we should accept racist lies that pitch migrants against other workers.

The truth is that unity between migrant and indigenous workers is a threat to bosses. That’s why they are so desperate to keep us divided.

Sick of poverty pay and job cuts? Blame the bosses

Migrants don’t lower wages—bosses do. 

Even research from the Home Office has admitted that immigration has, if anything, a “positive effect on the wages of the existing population”.

Several other global studies have found wage rises at times of higher immigration.

In reality wages, like jobs and services, aren’t determined by immigration.

They are shaped by the state of the economy and the strength of workers’ struggle.

But workers tend to move to places where there are jobs.

And it can be harder for bosses to drive down wages when jobs are less scarce.

In contrast, bosses try and use economic crisis to attack workers.

The 1930s saw mass unemployment and poverty in Britain. 

Yet immigration was virtually non-existent.

Racist division weakens workers and makes it easier for bosses to get away with attacks on everyone.

When workers unite they can win gains for all.

At the end of the Second World War, thousands of Polish workers began work in Britain’s mines. 

Some in the labour movement opposed this and argued for quotas.

Left wingers, in contrast, campaigned to cut the working week and won—benefiting British and Polish workers.

But today, there are still those in the union movement who see migrant workers as a problem.

Many trade unions in Britain complain about so-called “social dumping”.

They say Britain’s bosses bring in workers from the European Union—usually from Eastern Europe—to undercut British workers’ wages and conditions.

This can blame poorly-paid migrant workers for low pay and lack of jobs—instead of the bosses.

Report angers the bigots 

The odious MigrationWatch condemned the Cream report.

It ignored how Cream showed that the figures MigrationWatch relies on are unfounded.

MigrationWatch, led by Sir Andrew Green (pictured), spluttered that recent immigrants had “contributed only just over 10 percent more than they received”.

Contributions can be hidden 

The Cream report pointed out that snapshots of existing migrant populations can be misleading.

An ageing migrant population could be seen as being a burden because they need more health care or benefits. 

These people may have arrived in Britain in  the 1960s or 1970s and worked for years.

No basis for Europe attack

Some have tried to paint migrants from outside the European Union as a particular burden.

But the Cream report said migrants who came to Britain after 1999 have made “positive fiscal contributions, irrespective of origin”.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.