The issue of migration will not go away. Some good questions have recently been asked about the large number of National Insurance Numbers issued to EU arrivals in the last four years, and whether this tallies with the smaller numbers of migrants acknowledged in the workforce. Have a large number come and gone?
The ONS has sought to give us some guidance about the longer term trends. They estimate that the population of 64.6 million in 2014 will grow to 69 million by mid 2024. They think a little over half the growth will come from new migrants. They also expect the newer migrants to boost the birth rate, adding to the natural growth of the population. The ONS is saying that migration will run at an additional 250,000 people a year. This is a drop on the current level, but well above the government’s target rate of under 100,000. Maybe Ministers should ask the ONS why they think the government will fail to limit migration as promised and learn from the ONS about the reasons why migration is still so high. For its part the ONS has to explain why it has been understating the recent rate of increase in its forecast.
It seems likely that the UK will continue to attract substantial numbers of new arrivals, all the time the economy is flexible and growing. The lure of the large number of new jobs the UK creates compared to the stubbornly high unemployment of much of the Eurozone will prove strong, both to the Europeans and to travellers coming through the EU from elsewhere.
Mr Cameron’s renegotiation has as its fourth aim controlling immigration from the rest of the EU. He has stated the need to cut the numbers of people coming into the country pointing out the strains it creates on NHS provision, housing and school places. He wishes to crack down on the abuses of free movement, allowing easier removal of foreign criminals and tightening rules on EU migrants bringing in non EU fiancées.
He seeks a four year ban on EU migrants receiving benefits or having access to social housing.
It is difficult to see how if he were granted all of this it would cut migration back enough to reach the promised levels. Many would still want to come for the jobs and better wages than in their own country. This pressure will be increased by the payment of the living wage. Meanwhile there remain disagreements between the UK and the rest. Most other EU countries wish to preserve freedom of movement, and wish to avoid discriminations between nationals and the citizens of other EU states.
Mr Cameron may end up with compromise which forces the UK to amend its benefit rules to comply. It is possible, for example, that a contribution driven system would be allowed and would keep recent arrivals out of claiming entitlements. The problem with this is could the UK find a way of entitling UK residents, without it being based on their nationality?