Immigration is not of equal significance across the UK, but the prevailing rhetoric on the issue has yet to recognise this.
Concerns regarding immigration are not new, and in the run up to the election, we shouldn’t be surprised that the subject has remained a prominent topic of discussion.
All of the parties have made commitments to address the perceived negative impacts that immigration has on people already living here in the UK. The party manifestos offer a smorgasbord of policies in order to tackle issues such as “benefit tourism”, and the notion that immigration somehow undercuts the wages of UK workers. For example, the Conservatives and Labour both advocate the withholding of benefits for new arrivals (the former for four years, the latter for two), while Labour propose to strengthen the law to prevent employers undercutting wages through exploitation. Stronger border controls are advocated right across the board.
But each of the parties is also keen to stress that their plans would allow the UK to maintain the economic benefits that migrants can bring. As the election campaign has progressed, we have seen an increased focus on these economic arguments. There has been greater recognition that businesses (and public services, particularly the NHS), rely on migrants for their skills, as well as the fact that immigrants support the labour markets that drive businesses and productivity in our most economically competitive cities. Some of this is even recognised in detail as well as in direction, with UKIP and Plaid Cymru both advocating a points-based system based on specific skills shortages.
However, there is still insufficient recognition across the political spectrum that immigration matters most of all in urban areas, and that immigration policies will most significantly impact on city economies. 78 per cent of migrants to the UK settle in cities, and 43 per cent of all migrants go to London. When parties talk about the pressure that immigration puts on services, they are primarily talking about city services. And when they talk of the contribution that migrants make to our economy, they mean to our urban centres. Reintroducing post-study work visas, for instance (advocated by the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Lib Dems), will be felt most strongly in London and Birmingham, boosting the skills in their labour market. Such measures will be felt less strongly elsewhere in the UK.
But you wouldn’t get that impression from party manifestos, speeches and debates. Rather, the rhetoric implies that immigration is of equal significance right across the UK, in both rural and urban regions. While the manifestos show a general movement towards a better understanding of the economic benefits of immigration, the majority of policies remain spatially blind. There’s still some way to go before we achieve a more effective immigration policy that supports growth in our cities.
To find out more about what the different parties have pledged on immigration and Europe, read our General Election 2015 Manifestos Briefing here.
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