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Busting the racist myths: how migrants give more than they take

This article is over 12 years, 5 months old
A new report shows that migrant workers are among the lowest paid workers and the least likely to receive benefits, writes Siân Ruddick
Issue 2163

Right wing newspapers and politicians constantly attack migrant workers and immigrants as a drain on Britain’s resources. But a new report has exposed the myth of “sponging immigrants” and shows how migration is a benefit to the economy.

Some of the most vicious attacks are focused on recent migrants from central and eastern Europe.

When these countries joined the European Union in May 2004, the Labour government allowed people from these countries to come and work in Britain.

This affected people from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Poland. Migrants from these countries since May 2004 are labelled to as “A8 immigrants”.

The report from the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (Cream) has conducted the first serious study of A8 immigrants in Britain.

It looks at their education level, age, gender, wages, as well as their contributions in tax compared to the services they use, including council housing, medical care and the police, law and courts.

The results are vital in understanding the positive contribution migrant workers make to British society.

New Labour was happy to welcome migrant workers into Britain during the “boom years”, so that they could do some of the hardest and lowest paid jobs. Many A8 migrants have been employed doing fruit and vegetable picking in Lincolnshire and East Anglia.

But the government also ensured that migrant workers had the least possible rights, so that they could be scapegoated and kicked out of the country when times turn bad.

Cleaners at a number of firms in London have been at the sharp end of this policy recently, as they have suffered in a wave of immigration raids.

Parts of the media promote the racist idea that migrants simply come to Britain to sponge off our “generous” welfare system.

For them, this means that people born in Britain pay more in taxes and get worse services as a result.


But the statistics take this idea apart. Migrants are only allowed to claim benefits after one year’s residence in Britain. This includes tax credits and social housing.

The Cream report shows that A8 immigrants are around 60 percent less likely than “natives” to receive tax benefits and less likely to live in social housing. Natives are defined as anyone born in the UK.

A8 immigrants also contribute much more in tax than they take out in benefits and public services that they use.

In the last year they paid 37 percent more in taxes than was spent on public goods and services that they received.

A8 immigrants make up 0.91 percent of the total population, but contributed 0.96 percent of total tax receipts. They accounted for just 0.6 percent of total public expenditure.

The immigrant population has risen significantly in the last five years.

The effects of this can be seen in communities and workplaces across Britain. While many migrants do work in isolated jobs, a significant proportion have found jobs in mainstream sectors.

They do vital jobs alongside workers born in Britain. They are bus drivers, builders and postal workers, as well as taking other jobs in the service sector.

The migrants are well-trained and educated, and so come to Britain with skills that benefits Britain without the government paying out for anything.

This is one of the reasons why, in times of boom and skilled labour shortages in certain areas, the government encourages workers form other countries to move here.

Some 32 percent of men, and 40 percent of A8 immigrant women are highly educated people who left full time education at the age of 21 or over. This is compared with 18 percent and 16 percent of the native population.

The migrants also have a higher rate of employment than the native population—95 percent for men, and 80 percent for women from A8 countries. This is compared with 83 percent and 75 percent of the native population.

Despite their high level of ­education and skills levels, migrants’ wages are substantially lower than that of the native population.

When migrants first arrive, their average wage is around half that of the average native worker. This has been shown to increase over time.

The recession has hit the employment of A8 immigrants, as it has all sectors of the workforce.

The employment rate of new arrivals in 2005-6 was 82.4 percent. This has now plummeted. Only 68 percent of those who have arrived in Britain since April 2008 are employed.

Migrant workers have to jump through hoops and wait a long time before receiving better rights.

It is only after one year’s continuous employment that an A8 immigrant can apply for a residence permit, which confirms their right to live and work here.

And only after five years’ of residence, while being employed or self sufficient, can workers apply for permanent residence. Because of this their position is much more vulnerable to attacks from employers and the government.

As the recession deepens the government, the right wing press and the fascist British National Party will attempt to blame migrants for the problems in society.

We cannot allow them to get away with this, and the Cream report gives us valuable ammunition to take their arguments apart.

The report is available at »


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