EU and UK politicians need to grasp the integration nettle

Politicians must engage with the social and cultural impact of migration flows, rather than endlessly debating economic issues.

Ipek Gencsu is a research intern at IPPR

Yesterday Viviane Reding, the vice president of the European Commission, criticised the UK government for its “populistic movements and populistic speech” and its immigration myths which were destroying the future of young people in Britain.

Her comments come at a time when the UK-EU dialogue on the issue of free movement is becoming increasingly tense, as evidenced by the new row between Poland and the UK over the issue of child benefits, and EU Commissioner Laszlo Andor’s previous warning that the UK was at risk of developing a “nasty” image because of its hysterical attitude to immigration.

In making her case, Reding stated that “the GDP of Britain rose by 3-4 per cent because of the input of these working Europeans who come to Great Britain”.

But these sorts of economic arguments about the benefits of immigration fail to speak to people’s concerns about the changing face of their neighbourhood, as well as strongly-held feelings about their cultural and national identity.

Many people in the UK who have concerns about migration simply will not be persuaded otherwise by economic arguments.

Instead, it is time for politicians both in the EU and the UK to come up with pragmatic responses that engage with the social and cultural impact of migration flows, rather than endlessly debating the economic upsides and downsides.

Nigel Farage recently stated that he wouldn’t mind being slightly poorer if it meant that we curb immigration. The UKIP leader is not alone in his view that “the social side of this matters more than pure market economics.”

Such sentiments were echoed by members of the public in Nick Robinson’s documentary, The Truth About Immigration, which aired on BBC2 earlier this week.

Unfortunately, the documentary was a missed opportunity. It concluded that we need a more frank and open debate about immigration but didn’t suggest how best to achieve this. We have been debating immigration openly, but the discussion needs to go beyond focusing purely on the numbers.

Instead we need to investigate the really important questions about how the migrants who do arrive could be better integrated into communities in the UK.

The documentary could have asked about what is the best way to welcome newcomers and inform them about how to better to contribute to their neighbourhood, as well as how can we mobilise local funding when needed, for example for schools to be able to improve the levels of English of migrant pupils.

The focus for UK and EU politicians needs to be on how to reduce tensions between groups, how to promote integration and what can be done to support the development of thriving and cohesive communities.

A positive and pragmatic response to integration is much more likely to result in migrants succeeding and thriving in the UK and, in turn, local people responding more positively to migration in their area.

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9 Responses to “EU and UK politicians need to grasp the integration nettle”

  1. Ben Cobley

    A good, sensible argument. I think the disappearance and decline of many institutions both locally and nationally means it’s pretty difficult for *anyone* to integrate into communities because there’s hardly any ways to engage with the local – let alone people from foreign countries. So I don’t think it’s specifically about directing money to welcome immigrants per se – we rather need to direct some money to build up institutions to give a focus to local life and a place people can go to learn about their local area and get to know people who live there.

    But also the mainstream liberal-left really does need to start shedding the shrill, antagonistic rhetoric that makes out anyone who is concerned about immigration is an evil racist who knows nothing about ‘the facts’.

  2. Harry Leslie Smith

    Perhaps we need to have a frank discussion about Europe because freedom of movement is one of its cornerstones for membership. Since we belong to the European Union we can’t cherry pick all that is good with membership and let the other members deal with what is deemed bad. Primarily, the anxiety over this issue of migration stems from one simple fact we have been dismantling government services and selling them off to the private sector to enrich the 1%. The problem lies with how we have been governed into a new society that has removed many of the social safety networks that protect both the new comer and those born and bred in Britain. Yet instead of having serious discussions about the state of our government and its obligations to her citizens, politicians and the press trundle out legitimate new comers to this country as the straw that will break the camel’s back.

  3. LB

    What immigration myths would those be?

    Ah yes, that a worker in Starbucks is paying enough tax to cover the 11.5K spending and the 5K pension costs each and every year.

    Politicians have been rumbled by the public and just ploughing on telling the same lies isn’t working.

  4. LB

    In making her case, Reding stated that “the GDP of Britain rose by 3-4 per cent because of the input of these working Europeans who come to Great Britain”.


    But the state costs have gone up 10%.

    Yep lets spend 10 quid, get 3-4 quid back, its a great deal isn’t it.

    More lies on more lies

  5. LB

    , rather than endlessly debating the economic upsides and downsides.


    Ah yes, we know why. There is no economic upside for a migration free fall all. Lets change the subject because we’ve lost the argument

    That’s right 11.5K a year per migrant in taxes is a complete fantasy. The average migrant is no better or no worse than the average Brit. Since the average Brit can’t cover the cost of the state, an average migrant isn’t going to either.

    Be it barristas in Starbucks to fruit pickers in Kent, they don’t cover the cost that the state pays out.

    It’s only the highly paid that cover the cost, the rest are a drain on the economy.

  6. Cole

    So I guess those immigrants who founded M&S, Tesco, Shell, Harland and Wolff, Burtons, Moss Bros etc etc didn’t contribute to the economy. And funny that London, the city with most immigrants, is the motor of our economy.

  7. LB

    Some do, some don’t.

    For every Cohen (asylum, rather than economic migrant), there are plenty working in Starbucks paying little tax, consuming resources. Starbucks aren’t paying are they?

    So the left resort to trying to distort as you have just done. Use the BNP logic. It goes like this.

    Because one migrant is good all must be good. – your argument

    Because one muslim’s a paedophile, all must be paedophiles – the BNP.

    Notice the logic? migrant/muslim and good/paedophile

    Doesn’t work as logic for the obvious reasons. You’re generalising and the BNP are generalising too to come up with a distorted view, for the same reasons.

    So you can argue on two grounds. Individual or general.

    On the general ground, or averages, the average spend per person per year is 11.5K, and you need another 5K a year if they are earning pension rights for the state pension. Lots more if they work in the civil service. Way more.

    Given that migrants are no different than Brits, they don’t pay enough tax to cover the costs. The average Brit doesn’t either, but that’s another problem.

    So on average, they don’t pay their way. Now the bonkers argument is then to say no migrant should come.

    Instead the correct approach is to pick and choose the migrants who do.

    Those that pay a lot of tax, which means they are skilled. Those that aren’t paying a lot of tax, cost others money, and so we shouldn’t accept them.

    However, a get out for you is on offer. You could always sponsor a migrant, where you guarantee to make up any shortfall in tax. Not an issue that you can see is there? However, unless you are very rich, you’re going to be impoverished by that.

  8. Cole

    Silly argument. Nearly all objective research shows that immigration helps the economy. And there’s plenty of evidence from many countries that immigrants tend to be entrepreneurial. People like you and the Daily Mail have been whining for at least 100 years about Jews, Italians, Asians, Poles etc coming to Britain and ruining the place. If we’d listened to the likes of you there would never have been a M&S or Tesco, but I guess you don’t care.

  9. Cole

    Did you know that Nigel Farage has a German wife? I thought he was against all these Europeans coming in. He’s even put her on the EU payroll (paid by we taxpayers of course).

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