Jonathan Portes is missing the point

I wasn’t very impressed with the Radio 4 Today programme wheeling out Jonathan Portes, Director, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, this morning essentially to spike David Cameron’s guns before his speech today on making it plain to immigrants that they can’t expect to get something for nothing if they come here.

Essentially Portes said that the average immigrant was less likely to be on out of work benefits than the average person who was here already. That may be true but Portes was being disingenuous. My city, London, is full of capable, talented immigrants and they are very welcome. One of them is my American wife. If they help us to fix our economy that is fine by me. But, we cannot afford any more people in this country who think that work isn’t for them. Ian Duncan Smith has been leading efforts to ensure that work pays and that people will always be better off working than being on benefits. We can’t afford to import more people who are essentially content to be dependent even if on average immigrants are less dependent than the settled community.

The big picture is that our state will spend about £720 billion next year, but income will only be £612 billion leaving a deficit of £108 billion. The biggest slice of spending is social spending at £220 billion. Cameron is focusing on the right priority and Portes is missing the point.

6 replies on “Jonathan Portes is missing the point”

“We can’t afford to import more people who are essentially content to be dependent even if on average immigrants are less dependent than the settled community.”

Are you suggesting that we expel the settled community on the basis that they are, on average, more dependent than the immigrant community?

Second, you note that the extent of spending on “social protection.” As any fule kno, the biggest part of that is pensions. Are you advocating cutting them?



You know full well that I am not saying that but if we do have a large number of people who need to be encouraged into work importing more cannot be the answer. Making sure that work pays is the answer for the domestic part of the problem.

Of course a large part of social protection is pensions which governments of left and right have effectively reduced by increasing the pension age very sharply. It is politically hard, and undesirable, to squeeze pensions. All the more reason to stop importing benefits claimants and to ask hard questions of settled benefits claimants. It is not a happy place to be but we aren’t going to have a magic growth solution to this problem whatever Balls & co. might wish. The Chinese cheap labour boom was a one off.


Hum. You agree with Portes that immigrants as a whole/on average are less likely to claim benefits. But then you say that “we cannot afford any more people in this country who think that work isn’t for them.” But that doesn’t make sense. If we’re importing people who, on average, claim less/work more than the settled population, then the ratio of claimers to workers must be improving (probably “net claimers” to “net contributors” is better). As a matter of arithmetic, we can afford to import some net claimers if we also import loads of net contributors (as is currently the position).

Now, if you’ve got some proposals as to how to improve the ratio, that’s fine. Also you may have other perfectly reasonable concerns about immigration. I’m just looking at the sums.

Same really applies to pensions – if we’re bringing in more net contributors, pensions become more, not less affordable. It was a bit of a red herring on my part – I just get a little irritated when people go on about welfare spending without mentioning that most of it is pensions.


Luke may get irritated at people “failing to mention that most of welfare spending is pensions” but the actual facts are that the state retirement pensions have been paid for by most pensioners ‘contributions and cost around £70billion out of total so-called welfare payments by central and local government. Moreover anyone retiring before 2010 has to made 44 years of national insurance contributions (11% of wages above about £4000 p.a. ) if a man, and 39 years if a woman to get the full pension with severe abatement rates for those with fewer than these numbers of contributions.StatePensions are not “benefits” anymore than “occupational” pensions are and in any case amount to about a third (not”most”) of the £220billion cited by “Luke”


J Portes approach to immigration is ludicrous. We should aim to have near to no migrant unemployment (especially in the first few years of their residence) as in theory we have control over who lives here. We should be picking people who are the best.

We don’t have control over who is born there. Just like any country we’ll have our unemployable people, people with social problems etc… The people you add to the country via immigration should be the best, and most employable.

Again it’s another case of using the input of net-contributionary migrants to offset those net-receiving migrants as way of proving that all migration is good.

It’s also odd that a keynesian economist who believes in large government also believes in laissez-faire immigration controls.


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