January 24, 2014

The Immigration Generation Gap


It often feels that the British public is being scaremonged into thinking that immigrants are stealing jobs, milking the welfare system, entering illegally and flooding the UK. But at least one section of the population is proving resistant to these messages, and this is revealing itself in a widening generational gap in attitudes towards migration.

It is undeniable that immigration is a topic that fills the British public with anxieties, but there is a clear gap opening in the attitudes of those born after 1980 and their parents and grandparents. While for the older generation human mobility takes the default face of immigration, for the younger generation, human mobility is not only people coming in their countries, but also the possibility to emigrate in pursuit of studies and work opportunities.

Much research has been carried out in the UK on the economic effects of immigration. A recent CReAM publication on the economic effects of European and third country national migration clearly shows that these people are fiscal contributors, but these findings many times fall on deaf ears.

Many of British attitudes towards immigrants are cultural and not economical. For the under 30s, however, cultural diversity and everyday contact with foreigners are very much part of their social norm. This, coupled up with the experience of travel, study and work abroad, has shaped their approach to migration.

It is an attitude that applies both to EU and third country migration. According to the British Social Attitudes poll, the under 34s are the most open group to immigration: 57% of them consider that immigration is either good or neutral to the economy, with 40% considering it has a negative impact. This contrasts with the 52% of over 55s who consider immigrants have a negative economic impact.

Most strikingly, the majority of young people interviewed consider that British culture is enriched as a consequence of immigration, which is in sharp contrast with their parents and grandparents who think that British culture is undermined by immigration.

This generational gap can be seen particularly in the approach towards the European Union free movement. According to a recent study by the thinktank British Future, the majority of under 30s would vote to stay in the EU as they are sharply against loosing the right to work in the EU. They are also in favour of staying in the EU as they consider it to have a positive impact for UK jobs and the economy in general.

The worrying issue is that the voice of ‘Generation Y’ is not being represented in the media and it is marginal to the political debate.

A few people have been pointing to the existence of this general gap – notably Nigel Morris in a recent piece in The Independent, and The Economist article of a couple of weeks ago. But it seems that the hysteria over Bulgarian and Romanian arrivals has overshadowed these more considered viewpoints during the last part of the 2013, and there are not many young voices in the media representing the under 30s point of view. As the EU elections approach, it is important not to lose sight of the diversity of opinions, especially in what concerns to the younger generation.

MRN has been working with partners in the Unison young members network and the National Union of Students to initiate the Open Generation project. This aims to provide young voices with a platform for the sharing of views, experiences and concerns on this important issue.

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