Is it reasonable to be concerned about immigration?

Nick Carter-Lando’s post on Facebook is a strong contribution to the ongoing EU Referendum debate, and makes a persuasive argument for Remain.

However, if we look at current context and the longer-term future, there are some reasonable counter-arguments to his primary assertion on EU immigration that “even under extreme assumptions the impact on our overall population just isn’t very large”

From 2001 to 2014, the UK population increased by 5.5M (or 9%) from 59.1M to 64.6M, at a faster rate than any time in the previous 90 years, with migration estimated to account for 85% of this increase (ref 1).

The growth of population, and the distribution of migrants, has not been uniform across the country. So, for example, a Guardian report in 2014 (ref 2) found that in the Cambridgeshire town of Wisbech approximately a third of the 30,000 population were estimated to be from eastern Europe.

It’s also worth noting that since 2004 (and the accession of new countries), EU net migration has increased from an annual run-rate of a couple of tens of thousands, to the current level of 185,000 – and the trend is upwards. In contrast, non-EU net migration has been broadly stable this century, and is on a gently declining trend.

Given the controls in place on non-EU migration, the lack of control on EU migration, and the desirability of the UK, because of the economic issues in the EU (particularly the Eurozone), it seems reasonable to expect that current trends will continue and EU migration will shortly account for more than the current 50% of net migration.

Overall, it’s clear that UK population growth so far this century has been significant (9%); migration has been the dominant cause of that growth; EU migration is an increasing contributor; and the effects of increasing population and migrant inflows have been felt disproportionately by people in some areas of the country compared to others.

Against this background it is perhaps not surprising that areas like Wisbech have seen  UKIP doing well. People who experience negative (in their view) impacts of migration are unlikely to have confidence in the ruling political class (of whichever colour) if they are repeatedly told that there is no problem, and that migration doesn’t need to be controlled.

And the longer-term prospects for our population also need to be considered. The latest (2014) official ONS projection of population covers the next 25 years until 2039 (ref 3). The ONS central projection is that UK population will be 74.3M by 2039, i.e. 9.7M more than in 2014.


Of that increase, 5M will be accounted for by net migration, and a further 1.7M by natural change (i.e. births) resulting from migration, i.e. approximately 6.7M (or 69%) of the projected increase is estimated to result from migration.

This projection assumes total net migration of just 329,000 to mid 2015, 256,000 to mid 2016 and then further reductions to a steady level of 185,000 per year by mid 2021 and thereafter. i.e. the assumption is that over the next 5 years net migration will come down to 55% of its 2015 level.

The ONS also makes a “High Migration” projection, assuming that long-term net migration is 265,000 per year – i.e. 80% of the current total level. In this case the 2039 total is 76.8M, an increase of 12.2M on 2014. Of this increase, more than 70%, or 8.5M, would result from migration.

It’s anyone’s guess whether the assumed basis for either of the central or High projections will turn out to be right. But, the official projections for the next 25 years clearly indicate a significant increase (of between 15% and 19%) on current population levels, even if current levels of net migration can be reduced.

This would bring the population increase in the first 40 years of this century to between 15.2M (25%) and 17.7M (30%), of which more than 70% is a consequence of migration.

Clearly, and given time and planning, we could invest in building houses, schools, hospitals, roads, etc to support this scale of population increase.

But there is at least a discussion to be had on the desirability of increasing the extent of this infrastructure in England by something like 25%.

I say England because, according to the ONS, 84% of the UK population live in England, and this will rise to something like 85.2% by 2039 because inward migration is preferentially into England. Also, population density – and hence the likely perception of population issues – is much lower in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The population density in England in 2001 was 380 people per square km. This rose to 416 in 2014. The 25 year ONS projections suggest that by 2039 this would rise to 485 (central projection) or 502 (High projection).

For comparison, current levels elsewhere in Europe include (ref 4) 501 in the Netherlands, 371 in Belgium,  232 in Germany, 207 in Italy, 121 in France and 93 in Spain.

It’s clear that most of us live in a relatively crowded country, and building new infrastructure to address current shortages and support the projected expansion in population over the next 25 years would have a significant impact on the environment in which we live.

Each of us is entitled to take a view on how desirable this would be, but there are entirely reasonable grounds for people in the UK to assess actual and projected migration volumes as significant and, potentially, unacceptable.

Politicians who say otherwise or who cannot offer practical measures to control migration are unlikely to win support from those with such legitimate concerns.


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