EU migrants bring billions to UK, report shows

Contrary to popular belief, EU migrants to the UK pay far more in taxes than they receive in state benefits. But is the increasingly toxic immigration debate about more than just money?

Immigration is the hottest topic in contemporary British politics. The debate is fuelled by alarming anecdotes and sensationalist news reports, often leading to incorrect and sometimes negative views of those arriving in the UK from other countries to work. For example, many believe that immigrants, particularly those from eastern Europe, are a drain on the UK economy.

New academic findings could help dispel this belief. According to a study by University College London, migrants from all EU countries added £20bn to the UK economy between 2000-2011, paying far more in taxes than they received in state benefits.

Immigrants from the so-called ‘new Europe’; the 10 countries which joined the EU in 2004, including Poland and Hungary, contributed nearly £5bn more in taxes than they took in benefits.

The study also found that EU immigrants are better educated than the UK population at large: 60% of arrivals from southern and western Europe and 25% of those from eastern Europe have university degrees. This compares with 24% of the UK-born workforce.

Immigrants were also 43% less likely than British people to receive state benefits and 7% less likely to live in social housing.

The report comes at a time when the prime minister David Cameron is under considerable pressure to put a cap on EU immigration, as support grows for UKIP, whose supporters favour strict immigration policies and leaving the EU.

But the principle of free movement is regarded by many member countries, particularly Germany, as one of the founding principles of the EU. If Cameron is unable to negotiate limits to EU citizens arriving in the UK, it could eventually lead to a British exit from the EU altogether.

Drain or gain?

At last there is proof, some say, that the Poles and Czechs and other EU migrants are not a financial drain on the country, as UKIP suggests. In fact, quite the opposite. As one economist points out, without immigration, UK taxes or public sector borrowing would be far higher. With luck, this report will lead to a more informed debate about immigration in the run up to next year’s general election, and put a stop to all the scaremongering.

Yet despite this report, there are other valid reasons for trying to curb immigration, others say. Britain is already one of the most crowded countries in Europe and many fear that too many immigrants leads to a loss of social cohesion and sense of community, as well as fears that they undercut wages and take jobs that could be done by UK citizens. The important effects of immigration are social and long term, not economic and short term, some say, and over time these migrants could become a burden.

You Decide

  1. Are immigrants overall good for Britain or bad?
  2. Why is the issue of immigration such a heated one?


  1. In groups, make a list of some of the benefits of immigration and some of the disadvantages.
  2. ‘The anti-immigration voices have lost the economic argument.’ Discuss.

Some People Say...

“Statistics alone won’t win the immigration debate.’Owen Jones”

What do you think?

Q & A

How does this story affect me?
Immigration is a heated, divisive issue, and there is no right or wrong answer. But it is often framed by sensationalist reporting, misleading statistics and sometimes racist views. So it is important in the run-up to next year’s election to understand the issue through facts and figures rather than relying on anecdotes and soundbites.
Does David Cameron want the UK to leave the EU?
The prime minister refuses to say if he would campaign for Britain to leave the EU if he was unable to renegotiate quotas on EU migrants. He is in a difficult position, trying to persuade Conservative voters not to switch to UKIP while knowing that the economy could be damaged if Britain left the EU and its single market.

Word Watch

A recent Ipsos MORI poll found that the British think that nearly a quarter of the UK population are immigrants, almost twice the actual figure of 13%.
Douglas Carswell, a Conservative MP for Clacton, switched party to UKIP in August this year, resigning his seat in order to let the voters choose again. They re-elected him with a large majority as UKIP’s first MP. Another Conservative MP has switched to UKIP and there will be another by-election in Rochester later this month.
Free movement
A core principle enshrined in the EU treaties: the free movement of citizens, goods, capital and services throughout its member countries.
The immigrants the report focuses on are disproportionately young. If they decide to stay in the UK, their contributions may actually rise as they become more skilled and better paid. But once they retire, they will then require more from the state in healthcare and pensions.

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