Immigration and the fear of the Polish plumber

Polish_PlumberIn 2004, a great fear took over France, as the entry of the Eastern European countries announced the arrival of the “Polish plumber”. France’s social system would be submerged by cheap workers, who would destroy the welfare state under their pressure and demand for benefits. The country restricted access to its labour market to the new immigrants.

However, Britain, which did open its borders to the new EU countries, seems to have benefited. A recent study undertaken by Christian Dustman, professor of economics at UCL, demonstrates that the new wave of immigrants significantly benefited the UK fiscal system. In the last tax year 2008-2009, the immigrants contributed in direct or indirect tax 33 per cent more than they received from any public service. An amazing result especially when compared with the 20 per cent negative contribution for native Brits. According to Professor Dustman, interviewed in the FT, these new immigrants are “60 per cent less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and 58 per cent less likely to live in social housing”.

Another myth busted by this study is that immigrants continue to invade Britain. In 2008, 56,000 of these immigrants left the UK, against 25,000 in 2007. This is confirmed by Tim Finch, head of migration research at the Institute for Public Policy Research, who declares “it is the first time we have anything more than anecdotal evidence that people are going home in quite big numbers” with “signs of immigration tailing off”. Thus, far from destroying Britain’s welfare state, the new immigrants have greatly contributed to the country’s economy and many are actually returning home; proof that the Polish plumber was not so bad.

Beware of populism

Populism is a chronic disease of contemporary politics. A complex problem is given a simple and straightforward explanation in the form of a vote-winning slogan. In the case of immigrants, they are accused, among other allegations, of destroying the welfare state. However, the British example demonstrates that a well regulated immigration framework can be far from negative for a country’s economy, as it can bring many positive results.

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