Sir Andrew Green is Chairman of Migrationwatch UK
Today’s report by the Office of Budget
Responsibility (OBR) has been presented by some as a boost for the immigration
lobby. Substantial immigration does
reduce the public debt / GDP ratio – but only for a period.
The more fundamental story, however, is
that the OBR have found no definitive evidence of any particular economic
benefit from immigration. They therefore
had to assume that migrants have the same economic characteristics as natives.
Any benefit from higher immigration,
therefore, derives primarily from the fact that they have a higher proportion
of working age. This is what helps to
reduce the ratio of debt to GDP. As the
OBR recognised, however, migrants also get older and add to age-related
expenditure. So higher migration only
delays some of the fiscal challenges of an ageing population rather than
resolving them permanently. If we go
down this road ever higher levels of immigration will be required as the last
lot grow older – a kind of giant Ponzi scheme which, in effect, passes the
problem on to our grand children.
What do today’s findings mean in terms
of immigration policy? The OBR
calculations were based on net migration of 140,000 compared to no migration at
all. We should consider this against the
present level of migration which has averaged 250,000 a year over the past ten
years. The Coalition government have
succeeded in getting this down to about 150,000 a year and aim to get it to
below 100,000 by the end of this Parliament.
The fiscal impact of immigration policy, therefore, is not the
difference between zero and 140,000. The
practical question is the difference in fiscal effect between 90,000 and
140,000 which is likely to be substantially less.
That is just the arithmetic. In the real world we have to consider the
implications of an extra 14 million people, two thirds as a result of
immigration, who would have a very considerable impact on both our society and
our environment. This goes far beyond
the parched territory of accountancy.
The question may come down to millions more immigrants which would only
postpone the problem or a few percent reduction in annual government
expenditure. I suspect that the public
would be unimpressed by a policy that amounted to kicking the can down the road.