Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims Thousands of migrants have attempted to cross into the UK from France in recent days


The migrant crisis gripping Calais shows no sign of abating, with 3,500 people attempting to illegally travel to the UK via the Channel Tunnel in just two days.

As people attempt to flee bloody conflicts, oppressive regimes and poverty by risking their lives to cross the Channel, politicians compete to talk toughest on the issue.

Prime Minister David Cameron came under fire on Thursday for describing migrants as a “swarm”, while Ukip leader Nigel Farage warned a British holidaymaker or lorry driver could soon die unless “something radical is done”.

In an effort to separate the reality from the political rhetoric, we asked Professor John Salt of UCL’s Migration Research Unit to respond to some of the most common assertions about immigration to the UK.

Is Britain full?

“The problem here is that there has never been an accepted optimum population level as there are all sorts of constraints. There are various land uses that housing must compete with. For example, you could say that if we hadn’t built all the golf courses we have in Surrey, then we’d have a lot more space to build housing and therefore be in a better position to manage an increased population.

“It’s really a matter of perception and what people are comfortable with. Many of the problems associated with immigration are regionally specific. For example, one of the big problems in the South East is water supply and it could be said that immigration in that region is adding to that pressure, but that is very different to saying Britain is full up. It is possible to divert resources to those areas experiencing most pressures associated with immigration, from those that do not.

“Logic dictates that you cannot keep increasing your population forever. However, when I first began studying this subject in the 1960s, the assumption was that the population would increase to as much as 80 million by the end of the century. All sorts of regional strategies were developed, including plans to create substantial extra capacity in towns like Milton Keynes, Swindon and Northampton. But then the pill was invented and that simply didn’t happen.”

Are immigrants really taking our jobs?

There are some very interesting figures that relate to this, from the time around the turn of 2004 and 2005 when something like a quarter of a million Poles entered the UK. However, recorded unemployment rates went down between 2003 and 2005, and recorded vacancy rates actually went up slightly, which would seem counter-intuitive. There are of course other factors at play, and people will make of that what they will, but the data would suggest that they weren’t taking the jobs of Brits.

One of the arguments is that certain easy-entry occupations are disproportionately affected, such as catering, food processing, driving jobs and construction, where it is often claimed wages are driven down. The econometric evidence suggests immigration doesn’t generally impact on the pay or employment rates of existing citizens. People in lower paid jobs are more likely to be affected, but even then the effect, statistically speaking, is relatively small.


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