14/10/2013 4 Comments
So the European Commission have, for three years, been asking the Cameron government to provide evidence to substantiate his claim that the UK is suffering from a problem of “benefit tourism”. Having received nothing back in response, today they called “Shenanigans“.
As I have discussed on here before, the effects of immigration are overwhelmingly positive to the UK economy. Immigration increases economic growth. Immigration doesn’t increase unemployment. Immigrants contribute 30% more through taxes than they take through public services. In short, we would be doing significantly worse without immigrants.
You will notice that there is a marked difference between the messages I just gave you and the messages that the government sends out when discussing this subject. The biggest difference though, is that my messages are based on evidence and facts as opposed to the creation and fuelling of prejudices. (Read my earlier post, “The Immigration Fallacy” for more detail and links to comprehensive studies on the subject.)
The Daily Mail gave us a fact though, “600,000 Unemployed EU Citizens Living in Britain!” Except that it wasn’t a fact. Their definition of unemployed being different to everyone else’s by including people who weren’t seeking work such as students, retired people and spouses of employed people. The number of EU immigrants claiming job-seekers allowance, it was pointed out, was actually not 600,000 but 38,000. Now we can of course, quibble about the definition of unemployed, but if we were to use The Daily Mail’s one then overall UK unemployment, as Jonathan Portes noted, would be in excess of 15 million people, or around six times higher than our current way of measuring it.
Looking for supportive evidence was obviously a failing strategy when attempting to justify their policy of demonising immigrants, so Number 10 instead told us to forget the facts and appreciate that we needed to act due to “widespread and understandable concern” over people coming to the UK to access benefits. Well of course there is widespread concern now! The government have spent the last three and a half years trying to convince people that immigrants and benefit claimants are the root of all evil.
I’m not sure the tactic of:
- Scare people into believing there is an immigration crisis
- Get tough on immigration because people are now scared about an immigration crisis
…..is necessarily better than:
- Look at the overwhelming evidence
- Create a sensible policy based on it
The whole “benefit tourism” thing is an example of a Phantom Problem – a key tool in the government’s spin arsenal. I wrote about them in detail here, but essentially Phantom problems work like this:
- You decide on a policy you want to implement based on your political ideals
- Because it is based on your political ideals rather than evidence you can’t sell the policy to the public based on facts
- You put a huge amount of effort into convincing the public that there is a crisis that can only be dealt with by implementing your tough policy
- You implement your policy off the back of the huge public panic you have created
- The public thank you for being tough and sorting out that crisis that was about to happen
Obviously I can understand why this disingenuous approach to policy-making is so attractive to the Conservative Party. On this, any many other issues, the evidence is simply at odds with their political ideals. I understand it but seriously, don’t we deserve a bit more than that? Ok, they have shown that using a basic framework of ignoring the facts but marketing their idealisms can be effective in molding the country as they’d like it to be, but it’s not hard to see why that is not an optimal strategy for delivering benefit to the majority.
Given that the evidence shows that immigrants contribute significantly more on average, I do see a certain irony when I see the Tories standing up behind a lectern on which is emblazoned the phrase, “For Hardworking People”.
Perhaps all they need is a wider lectern so it can say, “For Hardworking People…. As Long As You’re Not a Foreigner.”