By Mike Jones
The Critic Magazine, 21 November, 2023
To protect institutions and infrastructure, we need an annual limit on immigration
The movement of people between countries is a natural and positive aspect of freedom. Individuals relocate for various reasons such as employment opportunities, education, family ties, retirement or seeking protection. This mobility can contribute to economic growth and address skill shortages.
However, challenges arise when migration reaches significant and imbalanced levels, particularly from less affluent countries. In such cases, unexpected and unplanned population growth strains essential services, transportation, housing and healthcare.
Contrary to the assertion that Britain has always been a “nation of immigrants”, historical records show that, for centuries, it was predominantly a country of emigration. Between 1815 and 1930, around 12 million Britons emigrated, maintaining a consistent net outflow of British citizens. Immigration to the UK was historically modest, experiencing a notable shift in the late 1950s with unregulated inflows from the New Commonwealth.
Whilst the early 1990s saw annual net immigration hover around 40,000, even dipping into negative territory in 1993, a policy shake-up under Labour post-1997 triggered a substantial surge, reaching about 200,000 per year. Today, that surge has skyrocketed to an unprecedented 606,000,
Migration Watch UK predicts that if net migration persists at this record level, Britain’s population could well soar to 83-87 million by 2046. This surge, equivalent to fifteen new cities the size of Birmingham, prompted our recent analysis. We examined the demands of fifteen new Birminghams on essential infrastructure like schools, hospitals, roads, bus lanes, colleges and police stations.
Allowing net migration to continue at this pace would place an unbearable strain on public services, particularly in health, transport and education. Table 1 outlines the essential infrastructure units required for this scenario by 2046:
Table 1: Infrastructure required to accomodate fifteen new Birminghams (2023)
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Economic benefits from immigration do exist, but beyond a certain point they plateau, whilst problems and costs surge. In crowded cities like London, rapid population growth strains public services, roads and housing, leaving the British taxpayer to foot the bill through higher taxes.
Large-scale immigration also plays havoc with existing infrastructure and the use of land, slashing productivity and living standards. Smaller countries, like Luxembourg, Singapore, Denmark and Norway, thrive without a massive influx. With a population of 67 million and untapped labour reserves, Britain doesn’t “need” large-scale immigration. Sure, it pumps up GDP, but not per capita GDP which is the real measure of economic benefit.
The real-world impact on public services can be extremely negative. Crunching local authority data from Birmingham City Council and multiplying it by fifteen gives a snapshot of the impending infrastructure chaos if migration maintains its record level of 606,000. If this net migration does not ease up, Britain is looking at constructing 6,675 new schools, 2,640 surgeries, 135 hospitals, 75 universities, 75 police stations and 165 colleges by 2046. It’s important to note that these projections don’t factor in potential changes in geography and future settlement patterns, as they are unpredictable. Nonetheless, these numbers offer a snapshot of the infrastructure challenges that the UK government may confront if net migration persists at the current record level of 606,000.
Now, let’s zoom in on the transport nightmare. If migration keeps its foot on the gas until 2046, Britain’s got to lay down hundreds of miles of new roads and bus lanes. Prepare for diseconomies of congestion — traffic jams, wasted fuel and a hefty bill for freight delays. In 2022, the average London driver lost £1,377 in congestion, whilst drivers across the country missed out on £707. According to the INRIX traffic scorecard, Birmingham is the fourth most congested city in the UK, with an average “hours lost” of 73 hours.
This surge in population growth offers no silver lining for the denizens of our compact island, in fact, quite the opposite. Whilst immigration may marginally rejuvenate the age structure, presenting a slight reprieve in the dependency ratio, it’s a far cry from a remedy for the overarching issue of population ageing. To maintain the status quo, an unending and substantial flow of migration becomes the disconcerting prescription.
Recipient nations stand to gain from the influx of skilled professionals and talented students, a reality well-known to anyone familiar with the academic realm. Such exchanges, traditionally balanced, have been par for the course amongst developed nations for quite some decades.
Yet, not every migrant enters the UK with high-skilled employment or study as their primary objective. Dependants and spouses may face barriers to employment, either due to inadequate qualifications or cultural norms. Employers, especially in sectors with lacklustre productivity, welcome immigrants willing to accept low wages and unattractive conditions often shunned by locals.
Debates linger on the fiscal gains of migration, with most studies indicating meagre benefits, and some even suggesting a negative impact. The affluent may see gains, but the less fortunate are left wanting.
Employers may revel in the readily available and pliant immigrant workforce, but some have developed an unhealthy reliance. A lax approach to immigration, particularly in the realm of low-wage workers, distorts the economic landscape and fosters dependency. The proliferation of low-wage, low-productivity and low-skill enterprises is certainly not the hallmark of a modern, knowledge-based economy.
Large-scale immigration might have worked wonders for sparsely populated countries when they needed a larger population to develop their resources, but in densely packed Britain and especially in England, it’s a different story. Current migration generates serious congestion problems and hikes the cost of land and housing. The rapid population surge elbows out other investments, whilst creating a bottleneck for the increased population’s infrastructure needs.
The allure of a bigger talent pool and increased specialisation resulting from population growth needs a reality check. As the population swells, the UK economy might benefit in certain sectors, but the downsides — the strain on land, housing, services and infrastructure — can’t be swept under the rug.
Our paper foresees intolerable pressures on public services, particularly health, transport and education, as the UK population balloons. The fix? Slam the brakes with an annual limit on immigration, balancing business needs, international commitments and keeping the inflow in check with outflow. It’s time for a strategic exit ramp to avoid the gridlock that mass immigration might bring to the British way of life.