In the first of two articles debating immigration, Kieran Marray, OULC member, defends high levels of immigration into the UK and explains why he believes Labour should be encouraging it.
I have to start with a confession: I am a massive fan of immigration. Maybe it’s because I likely wouldn’t be sitting here and writing this article without it. I am a second generation immigrant. My dad was born in County Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland and moved to Britain when he was young, and one of my other biological grandparents was also Irish. Hopefully, by the time of publication, I will be an Irish citizen as well as a British one (not just because of Brexit, I promise). I also live in Corby, a town in Northamptonshire which exists purely due to migration. The vast majority of the town was built to house Scottish and Irish steelworkers (like my grandad) brought in to feed the roaring blast furnaces and tend the rivers of molten iron and steel that used to dominate its centre, and it now provides a home to thousands of workers from central and eastern Europe too.
My love of immigration, and passionate belief that the Labour party should support it and not restrict it, is not, however, due to this obvious bias. It is due to the fact that it provides great benefits to the majority in our society.
One of the main benefits of immigration is of course cultural. The infusion of people of different backgrounds and experiences enriches our society in ways that make the lives of all better. One only has to look at the rich and vibrant culture in high-immigration cities like London to see this. However, as going into this would require at least another article, I am going to focus on the economic benefits of large scale immigration instead.
These benefits are threefold. Greater numbers of people are likely to bring with them a greater demand for goods and services. People need food, clothes and so on, which require shops to sell them and people to help provide them. This is especially true for immigrants who are not massively rich, as the rich spend a lower proportion of their income than everyone else. This demand generates jobs for those who don’t have them, and gives more work to those who desperately need it. Greater levels of immigration are also likely to increase the number of skilled immigrants who come to the UK. In the short term, this means that our children are likely to be educated by better teachers, and the sick treated by better doctors. In the long term, this means that our country has the skills to teach people born here to be those better teachers and doctors themselves. Finally, when taken together, these both boost total tax revenue. More people mean more people buying goods, and so more people paying taxes. This gives the government more money to pay for the investment in schools, hospitals and general public services we need after so many years of Tory austerity.
“But Kieran, doesn’t mass immigration undercut the wages of the worst off?” I hear you ask. “Aren’t those the people Labour should be trying to protect, instead of lowering their income?” The argument that immigration reduces the wages of low income workers is the big myth of the immigration debate. Right-wing politicians and commentators love to spout it, often supporting this by drawing a supply and demand diagram. When analysis more complex than drawing two lines on a graph is carried out, there is little to no evidence that this actually happens. The economist David Card at UC Berkeley’s analysis of the Mariel Boatlift, which is generally regarded by economists as the closest we have to a natural experiment in the effects of immigration, found no evidence of it. There is also no conclusive evidence of mass immigration undercutting wages during the recent ‘immigration boom’ in the UK.
To fight for the worst off and those in need, Labour should be welcoming immigration, and focusing on redistribution. We live in one of the most unequal times since the 1920s, in terms of both income and wealth inequality. Wages are stagnating for the working and middle classes while they are skyrocketing for the rich, and this has been happening since the 1980s. What Labour needs to concentrate on is this, not parroting the right and scapegoating those who are good for our society.