British populist politicians have recently gained a lot from fuelling the hostility towards Poles and immigrants from other CEE countries. The hyped opposition towards immigration also affected the June referendum with the majority of the society voting for Brexit. But what is the truth? Do Polish people really “prey upon” the British social security system or is it just the opposite: do they claim less benefits than native Brits? How do Poles contribute to the development of British economy?
It is a common British stereotype to believe that Poles are either blue-collar workers or freeloaders doing nothing, relying on benefits and using the extensive social security system. A lot of British people blame Poles for lower wages, mostly in the construction and transport sectors, where there is an abundance of job offers which do not require English language proficiency. A negative image of Polish immigrants has also been proliferated by prominent representatives of the political class. Suffice to say that the former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, referred to CEE immigrants as “benefit tourists” and David Cameron stated in his 2015 political campaign that the opening of the labour market in 2004 was “a huge mistake”.
However, politics has its own rules, so instead of listening to enlightened populists, let us actually take a look at the facts. The facts speak in favour of Poles and all EU immigrants living and working in the UK. According to reports from renowned research institutions (e.g. the Office for National Statistics), Poles fare well in the British labour market, which is reflected in the high employment rate and a significant number of Poles running their own businesses. The census of March 2011 showed that the Polish minority had the highest employment rate in England and Wales (over 81%) and a high employment rate in Scotland (56%). Besides, Poles do well in entrepreneurship rankings – among foreigners with their own businesses in the UK, they were listed 6th with 21,757 Polish businesses established between 2004-2013.
Poles who have come to the UK since 2004, after Poland joined the European Union and the British labour market was fully opened, have significantly contributed to the economic development and welfare in the UK. This is confirmed by governmental studies (periodic statistical analyses), which show that the British economy has undoubtedly benefited from opening the labour market to Poland and other CEE countries. Quite recently, a British weekly magazine, The Spectator, warned that without Polish immigrants, the construction and transport industries may collapse and the Polish think-thank, the Sobieski Institute, estimated that on average Poles in the UK contribute £7 billion to the annual GDP. Moreover, the Independent newspaper noted some time ago that the image of a Pole doing manual work is indeed a stereotype. It is true that a number of Polish people from the initial migration waves (right after Poland joined the EU) started by doing simple manual work, but a lot of them just wanted to save money to open their own business or invest in their further education.
All those criticising the 2004 opening of the British labour market should consider another, probably the most significant, study of recent years: the report from the University College London’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration. It shows that EU immigrants, from both the old EU and the A10 (CEE) countries, contribute more to the UK budget that they actually consume.
According to an in-depth transfer analysis, between 2000-2011 all EU immigrants generated £20 billion in total, with £15 billion from the old EU-15 citizens, and 5 billion from the A10 immigrants. These are net values, i.e. less all transfers for immigrants, such as benefits or hidden fixed costs (e.g. maintenance of roads, fire or police services). Incomers from the old EU have contributed 64% more to the budget than they have consumed and in the case of Poles and immigrants from other CEE countries this figure was 12%. In addition, the UCL experts have calculated that if the UK were to educate all the EU immigrants who have been working there since 2000, it would have required almost £7 billion. Nonetheless, such costs have already been paid by their countries of origin.
The stereotype of a Polish blue-collar worker is also contradicted by the data on Polish entrepreneurs in the UK. As mentioned previously, in the first decade following the accession of Poland to the European Union, Poles registered almost 22,000 businesses in the UK. A number of them were created with the help of Admiral Tax, supporting mostly non-residents in becoming self-employed in the UK. Admiral Tax specialists have been recognised by Polish media in the UK, which often quote them or invite them to write educational columns on entrepreneurship. Their mission is something to be proud of.
The scope, significance and successes of our businesses in the UK are reflected in the prestigious competition for Polish companies, the “Polish Choice of The Year” (www.polishchoice.co.uk). Registration for the 2017 competition is now open. The poll organised by Zetha Media (publishers of the Polish Express and LAJT, for example) can be entered by any company targeting Poles in the UK (not only of those of Polish origin). In both previous competitions, in 2015 and 2016, the winners were mostly Polish businesses. The “Polish Choice of The Year” points to the fact that Polish entrepreneurs exhibit great commitment. They are customer-oriented, respond to their clients’ needs and shape their product or service offering accordingly.
The presence of Polish businesses in the UK is becoming more and more prominent. Suffice to say that the winners of the first “Polish Choice” were invited to the British Parliament, where they took part in the conference “Polish Entrepreneurial Contribution to the British Economy”. At that meeting, held in the House of Commons, Polish business owners wanted to convince the British decision-makers to change their attitude toward Poles and consider the real contribution of the Polish community to British society as a whole.