The government doesn’t understand what is driving migration to the UK

Cameron's new proposals are 'radical’ only because most people believe that we should punish perpetrators, not victims

The latest ONS figures show net migration was up to 318,000 in 2014. This is a significant increase over last year’s figure of 209,000. The prime minister, apparently panicked by his failure to bring net migration down to the tens of thousands as he promised last election, is now clutching at straws to distract the public.

Cameron is pledging to double down on his failed measures. Remarkably he is promising a new Immigration Act, whilst the ink still dries on his government’s last one. The 2014 Act isn’t even fully implemented yet.

In doing this the government is revealing the poverty of its understanding of what is driving migration to the UK today. They seem intent on creating an environment that will expose more people to the dangers of a miserable life on the margins of British society, but nothing in any of these pledges encourages the view that migration levels will come down as a consequence.

Instead of taking a step back to why the harsher measures in the old Immigration Act did not reduce net migration as hoped, the prime minister is launching headfirst into more of the same.

Cameron describes his proposal to make working without permission from the Home Office a crime as a ‘radical’ step. It is ‘radical’ only because most people still believe that we should punish the perpetrators, not the victims of a crime. These plans will have the effect of locking more people into systems of modern slavery without hope of protection from the law.

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The figures above show that migration to the UK has increased as growth has increased.  However, instead of being able to welcome this sign that the UK is once more a place where good things are happening, this government is trapped by its insistence that more cuts are the way forward.

Similarly, the prime minister mentioned the attraction of welfare systems as part of the reason for the crackdown on EU migrant benefits. This is at odds with the evidence. Of the few migrants who are actually entitled to benefits in this country, hardly any actually claim them. The figure below shows that the vast majority of people who come here from the EEA come here to work, and hardly any claim any sort of benefits at all.

As the ONS figures show, the government has no idea of how to control legal migration and appears to be working from false premises. It disregards the net contribution migrants make to the economy, the link between the recovery and migration, the fact that a tiny proportion of migrants actually claim benefits.

The government claims that the UK is one of the fastest-growing post-recession economies. That is what has been driving migration to the UK, and in turn migration is what is supporting the boost to the economy. That is inescapable.

The government should ditch the net migration target and admit that what the latest migration figures really show is Britain’s growing economy. They reflect that Britain is more than ever an outward-facing, globalised country with a diverse and hardworking population from overseas.

Chai Patel is Policy and Campaign officer at Migrants’ Rights Network. Follow MRN on Twitter

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