PESKY immigrants. They move to Britain, taking jobs, scrounging welfare benefits, straining health services, overrunning local schools and occupying state-subsidised housing. That, at least, is the story recounted by politicians from the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and, increasingly, by members of the Conservative Party. A new study by two economists tells a very different tale.
Concern about the economic impact of immigration has centred on two areas: the effect foreigners have on native workers’ wages and employment; and the extent to which immigrants, in particular those from countries within the European Union who are free to move around at will, take from a system to which they have contributed little. Research by Christian Dustmann of University College London and Tommaso Frattini of the University of Milan focuses on the second.
By calculating European immigrants’ share of the cost of government spending and their contribution to government revenues, the scholars estimate that between 1995 and 2011 the migrants made a positive contribution of more than £4 billion ($6.4 billion) to Britain, compared with an overall negative contribution of £591 billion for native Britons. Between 2001 and 2011, the net fiscal contribution of recent arrivals from the eastern European countries that have joined the EU since 2004 has amounted to almost £5 billion. Even during the worst years of the financial crisis, in 2007-11, they made a net contribution of almost £2 billion to British public finances. Migrants from other European countries chipped in £8.6 billion.
The authors point out that the cost of some government services—in particular “pure public goods” such as defence spending—remains the same no matter what the population, so the overall cost of providing them to immigrants is zero. Calculate the amount per person, and the price for Britons goes down as the number of immigrants rises, since the cost is shared between a larger number of individuals.
Immigrants’ overall positive contribution is explained in part by the fact that they are less likely than natives to claim benefits or to live in social housing. Between 1998 and 2011 as many as 37% of natives were receiving some kind of state benefit or tax credit; European immigrants were nearly eight percentage points less likely to collect them. Those from Europe were also three percentage points less likely to live in social housing than Britons.