Dr Ruxandra Trandafoiu from the Edge Hill University Department of Media takes a look at the impact EU migrants have had on Lancashire.
As an EU migrant who moved to Ormskirk thirteen years ago, I remember the feeling of being the only foreigner in town. Throughout the years since then migration in Lancashire has noticeably increased. Thankfully, I can now buy Romanian sausages at one of several Eastern European shops in Southport. But as the debate surrounding the EU referendum becomes increasingly focused on migration, those initial feelings of being an outsider have started to reappear thanks to media scaremongering and half-truths being peddled by politicians and leave campaigners. As an academic who lists migration, as well as its causes and consequences among my research interests, I thought I’d restore the balance and share the facts about EU migration and its impact on Lancashire.
A recent report by the Independent shows that since 1990 a mere 24 per cent of net migration - the difference between those coming to live in the UK and those leaving- is a result of our EU membership. Rather, the much larger 76 per cent of migrants have come from outside the EU with the majority arriving from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Academic research, including my own, shows that EU migrants fall into two main categories: highly skilled; in search of career advancement and spurred on by a sense of adventure, and low skilled, tempted to the UK by higher wages in the wake of economic hardship. Highly skilled workers can be beneficial to struggling local services such as the NHS which is under considerable staffing pressures to meet demands. 11 per cent of all registered doctors working in the UK have trained in the European Economic Area, with 2,500 Romanian doctors alone registered with the General Medical Council. Like myself, highly skilled migrants in the most part have maintained consistent employment, paid higher taxes, and have had their professional training paid for by their home nation. Low skilled workers employed in seasonal jobs such as agriculture and construction are more likely to engage in circular migration, coming and going depending on the opportunities available in the job market.
Research proves that, unlike migrants from the Commonwealth, the great majority of EU migrants plan to eventually return to their original countries. This trend is most evident in the Polish community. Just after the 2004 EU enlargement, approximately 30,000 low skilled Poles were entering the UK every year. Not only has that number halved in recent years, but we are now seeing approximately 17,000 Poles returning to their homeland annually. Contrary to the common and unfounded argument, these figures suggest that Polish migration is unlikely to be a drain on the welfare state.
If we look at the statistics, the impact of migration on the whole of UK social welfare is minimal. According to the Office of National Statistics, the majority of EU nationals are employed, with 78 per cent registered as working from January to March this year. The figure for non-EU nationals is lower, standing at 61.7 per cent. HMRC tax figures for 2013-2014 show that migrants contribute £2.5 bn more than they claim in benefits. The overwhelming majority of EU migrants are single or childless on arrival and therefore are not entitled to significant benefits. They are also likely to be young, healthy, and subsequently not a drain on the NHS. The only noteworthy impact could be registered in maternity services and education. In 2014 64,000 children were born to EU-born mothers and this trend could continue. However, like my own, many of these children have a British born father. Therefore, it could argued that this statistic is misleading.
So, has EU immigration had any major impact on Lancashire? In West Lancashire, where I live, the ethnicity of residents is almost entirely White British. Around 5 per cent of the population in Skelmersdale has declared themselves to be White Other. National Insurance Number registrations by non-UK nationals during 2014-2015 stands at just 8,400, with Polish nationals the major source of registrations. While there have been rises in registrations by nationals from Romania, Bulgaria and Italy, the impact of EU migration on Lancashire is negligible. Of the 1.47m people living in Lancashire EU migrants makeup a mere 0.5 per cent of the population – contrary to the impression we get from certain politicians and ‘leave’ campaign vitriol, this is hardly what you’d call an ‘invasion’ by our EU neighbors.
Lancashire’s complex agricultural landscape, uneven economic development, varied social issues, and lack of ethnic diversity make Thursday’s referendum outcome difficult to predict. Whatever your reasons for voting and however your vote lands, one thing is certain. The supposed threat of EU migrants on our economic, social and national welfare is simply not a correct or acceptable reason to vote leave.
About Dr Ruxandra Trandafoiu, Edge Hill University Department of Media
Dr Trandafoiu is a Reader in Communication. Her main research areas include migration, globalization and political communication. She is a former journalist and art critic and has previously studied and worked in Romania, Italy, Hungary and Scotland. Over the last ten years Dr Trandafoiu has fulfilled various departmental roles that include Programme Leader for Public Relations, MA Critical Screen Practice and MRes Media, departmental research coordinator and admissions tutor.