‘THE only people who never make a mistake are those who never make a decision,’ is a truth which I first heard from John Major.
He was absolutely right.
That’s because, however careful you are, as a Minister, in your analysis, many decisions are based upon predictions about the future, where, ultimately, your fate is in the lap of the Gods.
One spectacular mistake in which I participated (not alone) was in lifting the transitional restrictions on the Eastern European states like Poland and Hungary which joined the EU in mid-2004.
Other existing EU members, notably France and Germany, decided to stick to the general rule which prevented migrants from these new states from working until 2011. But we thought that it would be good for Britain if these folk could come and work here from 2004.
Thorough research by the Home Office suggested that the impact of this benevolence would in any event be ‘relatively small, at between 5,000 and 13,000 immigrants per year up to 2010’.
Events proved these forecasts worthless. Net migration reached close to a quarter of a million at its peak in 2010. Lots of red faces, mine included.
Analysis of what has happened in the past is infinitely easier than what should happen in the future.
Research published this week by University College London says that immigrants who arrived after 1999 were 45 per cent less likely to claim state benefits or tax credits than UK natives in the period 2000-2011, and that those from the EU ‘put in considerably more in taxes and contributions than they received in benefits and transfers’.
Even those from outside the EU area contributed two per cent more in taxes than they received, compared with indigenous Brits who paid 11 per cent less in tax than they got back.
I have never under-estimated the social dislocation that can occur when large numbers of people from abroad settle in a particular area – as has happened in East Lancashire. But this latest research makes me feel a little better about this well-intentioned policy we messed up.