7) Migrants’ impacts on public services: no systematic data and analysis

The impact of immigration on the use and provision of public services – such as health, education, social housing and social services – is one of the key issues at the heart of the UK’s immigration debate. There is considerable anecdotal evidence but very limited systematic data and analysis about migrants’ use of public services, especially health and education, and even less information about the value of migrants’ contributions to the provision of public services in the UK. While the rapid growth in immigration in recent years has clearly had important consequences for public services in the UK, we do not have robust estimates of these effects which can include costs (consumption) and benefits (provision).

The lack of systematic evidence on migrants’ use of public services is mainly due to the fact that immigration status is recorded inconsistently (or not at all) when public services are provided. There is, for example, no systematic data on the number of migrants, let alone migrants with different types of immigration status, that make use of particular types of health services. We also have very limited information on the number of migrants’ children in UK school because enrolment data do not record nationality, country of birth, or immigration status. The closest estimates of migrant children in UK schools are based on data on the number of children receiving support for learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) at schools in England only. EAL status is self-reported and is an indicator of when English is not the first language spoken at home. It thus includes children born in the UK but who do not speak English at home. It also fails to capture children who are migrants but speak English at home. In the absence of systematic data and evidence, much of the debate is based on anecdotal evidence provided by service providers and other stakeholders.

In addition to the taxes they pay, migrants contribute to the provision of public services in at least two specific ways that have not yet been analysed adequately. First, they can provide skills that are currently not available or in short supply in the UK. Second, the employment of migrants facilitates the provision of public services at a cost that is lower than would be the case if those services were dependent solely on the supply of British workers. Immigration is thus a form of “subsidy” to public services that benefits service providers, consumers and the taxpayer. Potential adverse impacts of this subsidy include downward pressures on wages (or at least wage growth) of British workers employed in public services. They also include, in some low-waged sectors such as social care, an increasing reliance on and entrenchment of low-cost service provision.

Although we have data on the numbers and employment share of migrants in specific areas of service provision – e.g. LFS data suggest that almost a third of health professionals in the UK, and two-thirds of care assistants in London are foreign born – there has been no systematic analysis of how the employment of migrants has affected wages, and the cost and structure of public service provision. Lack of data and analysis about the impacts of immigration on the use and provision of public services has important effects on studies of the fiscal effects of immigration. They typically ignore the contribution migrants make to the provision of public services and assume that migrants’ use of public services is the same as that of British nationals.

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