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Whenever there is a discussion on higher taxation and benefits cuts in UK, some people inevitably start blaming immigrants and asylum seekers for the UK’s current economic problems.

The fact is that the UK takes in fewer asylum seekers than the European average. Germany for instance, takes in more than twice as many asylum seekers than the UK. According to this BBC article published just a month ago, the UK is 4th in EU, below Germany, Sweden, Belgium and France, when it comes to the number of asylum seekers.

According to the Migration Observatory in the University of Oxford, in the year 2011, asylum seekers made up only 7% of the net migration here, and only 33%of asylum applications are granted. The UK received 0.41 asylum applicants per 1000 people in its population. This figure is below the European average of 0.65 asylum applicants per 1000 people in its population.

Many people are misunderstood about the types of financial assistance asylum seekers receive from the government as well as how long they are allowed to stay here. According to this website asylum seekers are not allowed to work while their applications are being assessed. They are only allowed to live on handouts, and their handouts are much lesser than what a local is entitled to.

Non-asylum immigrants who come here for jobs or to live with their spouses or families come here either on work/spousal/ancestry visas, or by way of EU (European Union) nationality. EU nationals are granted free movement and travel within all countries in the EU zone. EU nationals in fact, make up the majority of the immigrants in the UK.

As for non-EU immigrants in UK, their visas are by no means easy to obtain. Spousal visa applications and Indefinite Leave To Remain visas (there are no Permanent Residence visas here anymore) cost between £550 to £1500 in application fees alone, with no guarantee of the application being approved. Criteria is strict and stringent, as the government started cracking down on bogus marriages a few years ago, and applicants are required to send in copious amounts of paperwork and evidence of their eligibility to stay in the UK, as well as pass the Life In The UK test.

Since 2008, the UK introduced a points-based system to weed out all would-be economic immigrants who are considered unskilled. The UK only accepts immigrants who possess higher qualifications at degree level, higher-level work experience, are skilled in occupations on UK’s Skills Shortage List, have adequate mastery of the English language, and who have adequate funds to support their stay in UK. Apart from that, the government introduced an annual cap of 22,700 on the number of Tier 2 (General) visas that can be issued to skilled immigrant workers.

All non-EU immigrants here on any sort of visa are not allowed to claim any social welfare, which means any benefits, tax credits or social housing for example, are closed off to them. Their visas clearly state they have no recourse to any public funds. This is not some new rule. It’s been going on for a long time. At least the last 10 years.

As a result of many of these immigrant-curbing measures, net migration has been falling steadily for the past few years.

According to the Migrant Observatory in the University of Oxford, in 2011, foreign-born nationals made up 12.3% of the UK’s population, bearing in mind that asylum seekers only make up a tiny portion of this.

Are migrants really draining the UK’s economy and welfare budgets, despite their lessening numbers? A recent study by academics at University College of London says otherwise. Their figures suggest migrants contribute £25bn to the UK’s economy, and the article had the following more to say:

“Recent immigrants were 45% less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits than people native to the UK and 3% less likely to live in social housing… People from European Economic Area countries have been the most likely to make a positive contribution, paying about 34% more in taxes than they received in benefits over the 10 years from 2001 to 2011… Other immigrants paid about 2% more than they received.”

So if migrants are not the ones draining the welfare pockets, who are? The answer is less obvious. According to this article published in the Guardian 7 months ago the lion’s share of welfare money – around £90bn – went towards funding state pensions for the elderly. The next biggest welfare expenditure, roughly £50bn(i.e. about half of what went towards funding state pensions)went towards means-tested financial support for both the employed and the unemployed (in the form of tax credits, family benefits and income support, for example). The rest trailed behind in the chart, taking up far less welfare spending compared to the above two. Crucially, only about £5bn of welfare spending went towards Unemployment. Yes, contrary to the propaganda propagated by tabloid papers and politicians here, the unemployed are NOT the ones crippling the country’s welfare expenditure.

The unfortunate fact is that the elderly – the ones on state pensions – cost the most in terms of welfare expenditure. This makes sense, as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age but the poor economy is unable to keep up. These charts don’t even take into consideration the huge burden the aging population puts on the National Health Service – the UK’s state-managed social healthcare system, free at the point of service.

That said, research has shown that the NHS is a far more cost-effective healthcare system compared to the private healthcare/health insurance systems found in other countries. I hardly think the NHS should be scrapped in favour of privatisation, although my personal experience of the NHS has been a bit hit-and-miss. It is not a perfect system, and from my experience of living in countries where I had private medical insurance, I will say that the care I received from the NHS felt a bit basic, thought I’m sure the NHS was never set up to be the equivalent of private healthcare anyway. For a state social healthcare system that ensures people, no matter how poor, do not fall through the cracks, I think the NHS is good.

I don’t know what is the best solution to all this, and I certainly don’t want the elderly to suffer so we the young ‘uns can have an easier time. But if the country’s economy continues to stagnate or worsen, more and more people will be forced to rely on more means-tested financial support from the government, which is the second biggest welfare expenditure in this country. It doesn’t help that successive governments have been cutting more and more benefits, and raising taxes, rather than increasing financial support for those who need it.

Back then, Hitler blamed the Jews for all the economic problems Germany faced, and many Germans believed his propaganda. These days, we have the politicians blaming immigrants for draining our resources when they should know better that the true culprits are to be found elsewhere. Yet people are falling for this, blaming immigrants for the country’s ills.

There is no doubt that we live in rather difficult times, but as has been the case in bygone eras, immigrants/non-locals/”outsiders” seem to always end up getting the blame for the locals’ suffering.