Author: Ian Dunt
There’s been a big push since the referendum to have the ‘legitimate concerns’ of the public recognised when it comes to immigration. Liberals and city-dwellers are told that they have ignored or disparaged the worries of more conservative voters for too long and are now paying the price.
What’s mentioned less often is that these views are often wrong. A useful study by King’s College London’s Policy institute, Ipsos Mori and UK in a Changing Europe this weekend gave an indication of just how wrong. They compared public beliefs about immigration with the evidence collected by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), whose findings are currently being translated into a new immigration bill by the Home Office.
The MAC report found that in 2016/17, “EEA migrants as a whole are estimated to have paid £4.7bn more in taxes than they received in welfare payments and public services”. Researchers asked 2,200 people which of these three options they believed: That “European migrants paid around £4.7bn more in taxes than they received in welfare benefits and public services”, that they paid “about the same” as they received, or that they paid “around £4.7bn less in taxes than they received in welfare benefits and public services”.
Just 29% of the public got the right answer. Even a majority of Remainers didn’t get it, with just 47% picking the first option. Leavers got far worse results, with only 16% selecting the correct answer.
This was the pattern throughout. Fifty-six per cent of the public – and 75% of Leave supporters – think European immigration has increased crime levels, but the MAC found no evidence of a link. Thirty-nine per cent of the public and 53% of Leave voters think European immigration has led to a decline in healthcare services, even though MAC evidence shows this is false.
A whopping two-thirds of the public have heard of the claim, emblazoned on the side of a bus you may have heard of, that the UK sends £350 million to the EU per week, and 42% of them still believe it is true, despite the UK Statistics Authority labelling it a “misuse of statistics”.
On and on it goes. The public grossly underestimates the UK’s reliance on European investment. Nearly half the public believe unemployment among lower-skilled workers has increased due to European immigration, despite the MAC finding “little or no impact”. They overestimate by a factor of three the proportion of the UK population from an EU country.