Opposition to migration affected the June referendum with a small majority of society voting for Brexit. But what’s the truth? Do Polish people really prey upon a trusting, porous British social security system – or is the opposite true: do they claim less in benefits than native Britons? How do Poles contribute to the development of British economy?
It’s a common British stereotype to believe that Poles are either low-skilled workers or freeloaders doing nothing, relying on benefits and abusing the social security system. Many British people blame Poles for lowering wages, mostly in the construction, hospitality and transport sectors, where there’s 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”.
Let’s take a look at the facts. These speak in favour of Poles and all EU immigrants living and working in the UK. According to studies carried out by the Office of National Statistics and from renowned research institutions, Poles fare well in the British labour market. This is reflected in their 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 Poles were in sixth place (after Ireland, India, US, Germany and China) in a 2014 ranking of migrant entrepreneurs in the UK. They set up 21,757 limited liability companies. On top of that, a further 65,000 Poles are self-employed sole traders in the UK, mainly in the construction sector.
Poles who came to the UK since 2004, after Poland joined the EU and the Britain opened its labour market to them, have significantly contributed to the UK’s economic development. A right-wing British weekly magazine, The Spectator, recently warned that without Polish immigrants, the construction and transport industries may collapse, while the Polish think-thank, the Sobieski Institute, estimated that on average Poles in the UK contribute £7 billion to the annual GDP. And the Independent newspaper noted that the image of a Pole doing manual work is indeed a stereotype – while significant numbers of them from the initial migration waves (immediately after Poland’s accession) started by doing simple manual work, many did so just to save up money to open their own business or invest in their further education.
All those criticising the opening of the British labour market in 2004 should consider another recent study, from the University College London’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration. This 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 have educated all the EU immigrants who have been working there since 2000, it would have had to spend almost £7 billion. 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. Poles have registered tens of thousands of 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) can be entered by any company targeting Poles in the UK (not only businesses 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, work hard and diligently.
The presence of Polish businesses in the UK is becoming more and more prominent. Suffice to say, the winners of the first Polish Choice competition were invited to the House of Commons, where they took part in the conference Polish Entrepreneurial Contribution to the British Economy. At that meeting, Polish business owners had the opportunity to convince the British law-makers to change their attitude toward Poles and consider the real contribution of the Polish community to British society as a whole.