As well as the aftermath of the Autumn Statement, there’s another bit of news today: net migration (immigration minus emigration, those coming minus those leaving) is at a record level of 336,000.
This number, actually identical to the number from the previous quarter, is higher than it was at the same point in 2014 – we usually try and compare the same point in the year since there are often seasonal effects (for example, higher sales near Christmas hence more demand for jobs).
A lot of people care a lot about this number. The government talked about getting this number down to “sustainable levels”, without ever defining what “sustainable” would actually be. It suggests that the current number is unsustainable – which undoubtedly it is since it cannot continue at that rate indefinitely. But by that logic, any positive number is unsustainable since there is only a finite amount of land in the UK. Of course, a more sensible approach to finding a sustainable level would consider the rate at which aggregate demand outstrips aggregate supply, since immigrants form part of the supply side of the economy (as well as the demand side).
Other parties, most notably, UKIP, have tried to make political capital out of this.
What is curious however is that this number isn’t being celebrated – it shows what a great place to be Britain is! People are desperate to come here to contribute towards the growing economy, and fewer folk are deciding to leave at the same time. It’s important to note, of course, that few if any of the immigrants considered here are refugees such as those coming from Syria.
The final thing worth noting is that less than half of this number is EU migration, which hardly makes a convincing case that renegotiating our EU membership on terms related to free movement of labour will make any meaningful difference.