Sir Andrew Green is Chairman of MigrationWatch.
In many parts of England children are now being turned away from the school of their parents choice as primary schools come under growing pressure of numbers. For both the children and their parents this can be hugely disruptive.
A report for London Councils predicts that the capital “faces reception place shortfalls of more than 18,300 in total by 2014”. Birmingham, is estimated to have a shortfall of 3,000 places. Slough’s birth rate has increased by 873 children a year over the last six years, equivalent to 29 reception classes. Bristol, Leicester, Manchester, Nottingham – the list of councils clamouring for extra funding for school places is growing. Overall, leaked Whitehall documents suggest an additional 350,000 primary places will be needed over the next four years.
Why has this happened? The i word – net immigration. Under Labour, immigration quadrupled. Many of those coming here were young people, hoping to do that most natural of things, to have children. Between 1998 and 2008, total births increased by 11%. Births to women born in the UK fell by 3% – while births to women and fathers born outside the UK more than doubled, increasing by 134% per cent. We now find that in 2009 one quarter of all births in England and Wales were to a mother born abroad. For London that figure was over 50%
The impact on our education system is now becoming clear. There are now more than 1,500 schools in England where more than half of pupils speak English as a second language – up from 866 in 1997. One in seven primary school pupils does not speak English as their first language. But these facts, disturbing enough for our social cohesion say nothing about the costs of all this.
New research by Migrationwatch has found that, so far, educating the children of immigrants who have arrived over the past twelve years has cost more than £15 billion. And the impact of this baby boom is set to be felt for years to come. Over the next five years, over half a million more school places will be needed for the children of recent immigrants – costing a further £39 billion. And, over the next ten years when public expenditure will be under intense pressure, we are likely to need one million extra school places. The cost of this will be of the order of £95 billion.
Looking further ahead still, the official population projections suggest that between 2008 and 2033 an additional 2.3 million children will result from migration. Assume that all these children will be educated in the state sector, the total costs reach an eye-watering £190 billion over the 25 year period.
Money apart, there has been very little effective planning – perhaps because of a reluctance to discuss immigration and its consequences. Some schools may have spare capacity from earlier periods of higher birth rates but they will not necessarily be in the same places as the new demand. And the effects ripple out even to villages in the South of England where one child gets into the local primary school while another is sent off to a different school, sometimes by taxi.
Nor is it only education that is now feeling the brunt of Labour’s wave of immigration. Official projections also show that, on average, 40% of the net growth in households in England over the period 2006- 2031 will be due to net international migration.
To point to the costs of immigration is not to say that there are no benefits. Some immigrants are of great, even exceptional, value. In any case migration in both directions is a natural part of an open economy. Overall, however, the strictly economic benefit to the indigenous population is very limited. An exhaustive and authoritative report by the Economic Affairs committee of the House of Lords in April 2008 found no evidence for the argument that net immigration generates significant benefits for the existing UK population.
The brutal fact is that present levels of immigration will, if sustained, drive the population of the UK to 70 million in 20 years and 80 million in 50 years time. That is no doubt why the Prime Minister has promised to get net immigration down to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands under Labour. Indeed, we must get net immigration down from 196,000 to about 40,000 a year if we are to stabilise our population at about 67 million compared to 62 million today.
This is the context for the debate about immigration policy, but it has been overshadowed by Nobel laureates, oil men, car manufacturers and university vice-chancellors claiming that Britain will lose its edge if we turn away the brightest and the best from our shores.
That’s not to say that their criticism is altogether misplaced. The devil will be in the detail but any system of control must be flexible and simple enough to ensure that really skilled professionals, or tomorrow’s Einsteins, can come to work or study. It would help if the focus was – as David Cameron put it – not on those who comes to this country, but who stays. The cap should be on people who want to settle here permanently, not those who just want to work or study for a few years. The real issue is population, not temporary immigration. It must be addressed very seriously for the sake of all our futures.