You wouldn’t know it from the tabloids, but immigration is starting to fall

If you want to scare the hell out of people on immigration, big numbers will usually do the trick.

So here’s a few to get you going. There are 6.6 million foreign-born people in the UK, up by 2.3 million in eight years, and up by 3 million in 12. This means that the number has nearly doubled under Labour, because more than 700 are arriving every day, which will mean an overall population increase from 61 million today to 70 million by 2029.

I’ve cobbled these numbers together from the Dailies Mail and Express, which got them from a MigrationWatch press release, which found them in a Government report called “Regional Economic Performance: A migration perspective Economics paper 4.”

Now, these are big numbers, but what do they tell us? (By the way, I am not going to dispute them; the report comes from a highly reputable body – Oxford Economics – which will point out that they are estimates only). Well, many things, but four important ones.

  1. That in an increasingly globalized world people are moving in greater numbers
  2. That a booming economy will suck in migrants who will in turn help to drive growth
  3. That the expansion of the EU has given new opportunities to the people of Eastern Europe which they have seized
  4. That many parts of the world are unstable and dangerous and that there was a spurt – now over – in asylum arrivals in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The question then arises as to whether these are necessarily bad things. In purely economic and humanitarian terms, the answer is no. Just as free trade and global capital flows are generally a good thing, so is the movement of labour. An expanding economy needs skills and additional workers, migration will supply some of that – and as importantly, it will correct when there is a downturn – as we are seeing in the UK now. The expanding prosperity of the EU is built on open markets and open borders and the UK has hugely benefited from that.

Finally, a society that provides protection to those fleeing persecution is a stronger, not a weaker, society.

That said, it is obvious that the public have reacted negatively to booming migration. The benefits of migration are hard to explain and have been distributed unevenly. Mainstream politicians have not been able to articulate a positive narrative which is plausible to the electorate. For this reason, ippr thinks the public, if not the economy, does need a breather from high net migration. But as the tabloids won’t tell you, this is starting to happen. The big numbers are old numbers.

Our guest writer is Tim Finch, Head of Migration, Equalities and Citizenship at the Institute for Public Policy Research

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