An audience member on Thursday night’s BBC Question Time caused quite a stir when she angrily argued the UK should “completely close the borders” to stop non-Brits entering the country.
Claiming Britain was “sinking” and immigrants were costing public services too much, the audience member repeatedly asked: “What sort of country is allowing this?”
The passionate outburst was prompted by a question to the show’s panel, which asked: “Please explain how chronic understaffing in social care will be tackled, given the government’s new immigration system.”
“We should completely close the borders … enough is enough”— BBC Question Time (@bbcquestiontime) February 20, 2020
This audience member says the number of people ’flooding in’ to the UK is costing public services too much. #bbcqt pic.twitter.com/T5EshhWqQu
A government policy statement this week outlined plans for a new points-based system after freedom of movement ends and said the economy needs to move away from a reliance on “cheap labour from Europe”.
The woman in the Question Time audience took this one step further, calling for a total ban on people entering the country because “enough is enough”.
But is she right?
HuffPost UK takes a look at her main points and the examines the actual facts...
The UK Is ‘Sinking’
“At what stage does the panel think this country has had enough, that we should close the borders? [...] Because it’s got to the stage now where there’s no education, schooling, infrastructure – it’s enough, we are sinking.”
Parts of the UK are indeed underwater right now but that is due to the weather and not immigration.
Completely closing the borders makes the fundamental mistake of treating all those who seek to cross them as one homogenous group that is costing the UK money.
Studies that try to determine the overall cost of immigrants on the UK vary widely in their conclusions due to differing methodologies and agendas of those conducting them.
But broadly speaking, according to FullFact: “Most studies suggest that the fiscal impact of immigration in the UK is relatively small (amounting to less than 1% of the country’s overall Gross Domestic Product).”
Breaking it down, there is clearly an economic argument to keep the borders open at least for some people. A 2018 report by Oxford Economics concluded that European migrants coming to the UK actually contribute £2,300 per year more to the public purse than the average UK adult.
People ‘Flooding’ In
“You’ve got people flooding into this country that cannot speak English.”
A government report in 2018 estimated that 770,000 people in England speak “hardly any or no English”. The majority of those are thought to be women of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin.
The report was published alongside a government pledge from then-communities secretary Sajid Javid to pledge £50m to boost integration, inspired by his own experience as a “six-year-old interpreter” for his Pakistani mother.
The Language Barrier
“How much is it costing for the interpreters? I was in hospital last week. The interpreter never turned up for the people who couldn’t speak English. She was paid, they all had to go on, and all the radiologists stood around. What sort of country is allowing this?”
There is no recent, accurate data on how much interpreters cost the NHS but a 2012 report by 2020health.org used Freedom of Information requests to determine NHS trusts spent £23.3m in 2011 on translation services.
This accounted for 0.02% of NHS spending for that year.
The £23.3m figure was helpfully extrapolated by the Daily Express in 2017 to provide the totally proportionate and not remotely inflammatory headline: “It’s RIDICULOUS” NHS spends £100 million on TRANSLATORS for 128 languages in five years.
“What sort of country is allowing this tourism to come in? You arrive in a plane, you get free service, you can have your babies, you can just carry on having it all for free.”
So-called “health tourism” costs around £1.8bn a year but it is an issue that it is often vastly overstated and misinterpreted.
The common misconception is that it consists of people coming to the UK solely to take advantage of the free healthcare provided by the NHS.
But the actual definition covers all those who are not “ordinarily resident” in the UK and so covers groups such as people who injure themselves while on holiday.
The figure for those deliberately taking advantage of the NHS is far lower and has been roughly estimated as £100m to £300m a year.
These figures need to be put into context – there are a multitude of issues that place far greater strain on the NHS and are caused by the lifestyle choices of native Brits.
- Alcohol cost the NHS £3.5bn in 2015
- Smoking cost the NHS £2.6bn in 2015
- Lack of exercise costs the NHS £1bn a year
So perhaps anyone complaining about the cost of immigrants on the NHS should make sure they’re tackling all the above before sticking their head above the parapet.
Another way to counter the money lost by health tourism would be to clamp down on tax evasion which, as a share of government spending, costs the NHS £537m each year.
Additionally, 5% of immigrants to the UK in 2018 were asylum seekers, those seeking refuge from persecution, war, torture and death in their own countries.
The woman on Question Time repeatedly asked “what kind of country” allowed some of the things she highlighted. It would be a pretty heartless country that would close its borders to these people.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.