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Progressive migration Priority

integration , migration , progressive politics , public services , population and demographics


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This programme will attempt to inform and shape the immigration debate and create the space and confidence for progressive solutions. The objective is to identify and confront the key political, policy, and delivery challenges posed by immigration in the UK today and over the coming years; and in the light of those challenges, to set out a progressive alternative for the UK’s immigration policy, one that is comprehensive, detailed, and radical – but also realistic.

This project seeks to move beyond the standard pro-immigration arguments of recent years, which rather than ‘balancing’ anti-immigration arguments, tend to be dismissed as out of touch or worse, with little influence on policy or mainstream debate as a result.

Project background

Immigration has been a top five political issue for the last decade and shows no sign of receding.

Immigration policy is complex, challenging, and controversial, as the last government found, and the new government is starting to realise. Public attitudes to immigration are hardening across the developing world, but international surveys confirm that British people are the most negative, with people more likely than in comparable countries to see immigration as a problem rather than an opportunity. However, IPPR’s past research has shown that public attitudes to immigration are more complex than standard surveys can suggest, and that in the right context, there is scope for a more positive public debate.

Immigration is an issue which cannot be viewed in isolation. Government policy on immigration can affect a very wide range of other policy areas: the economy, growth, the labour market and welfare reform, and the deficit; housing and public services (including the role of migrants as key employees, as well as users of services); regional policy; inequality and social justice; social capital, community cohesion and multiculturalism; and foreign, trade and development policy. Immigration’s effects also reach beyond public policy and objectives as narrowly construed, into areas like people’s sense of fairness, and their concerns about a local or national identity or way of life being threatened, as well as Britain’s place in a changing world, as seen by ourselves and by others. Our work will harness IPPR’s expertise in these other areas to stimulate a wide-ranging debate and produce a comprehensive set of recommendations.

The objective of the programme is to inform and influence the policies, plans, and public arguments of progressive politicians, opinion-formers and decision-makers; to produce a comprehensive and realistic set of recommendations for future policy; and to situate this in a new progressive narrative on immigration around which a wider coalition of voices can be formed in the run-up to the next general election.

Project details

Key questions

The programme will address the following key questions:

  • What should be the objectives of UK immigration policy? Should government merely seek to maximise the benefits and minimise the costs, or should it take a view on the level of immigration? What are the limits or constraints on UK immigration policy – for example EU membership, human rights legislation? Should the impact of migration on the poorest be given more weight than wider effects? How should government policy take account of the interests of migrants themselves?
  • What capacity does government have to forecast migration flows – including supply and demand – and to forecast the effects of these flows? What levers does government have to control or influence those flows, or their effects? How can the public debate be shaped to reflect a more realistic sense of what powers government actually has?
  • How will immigration policy and migration flows affect other areas of government policy, or other national objectives, including: the economy, growth, the labour market and the deficit; housing and public services (including the role of migrants as key employees, as well as users of services); regional policy; inequality and social justice; social capital, community cohesion and multiculturalism; and foreign, trade and development policy? How should these wider effects be taken into account in key policy decisions for the future?
  • Are the institutions which currently implement immigration policy ‘fit for purpose’? How might they be reformed to deliver more effectively? What are the barriers to reform – institutional, cultural, informational or technical – and how can they be overcome? What institutional or other changes would help break the vicious circle of over-promising and under-delivering, which further undermines public trust?
  • How should policymakers and progressives respond to the fact that some of the deepest feelings around immigration are rooted in issues like people’s sense of fairness, or their sense that our national identity or way of life is under threat – issues which go beyond public policy narrowly construed?
  • How can a progressive policy position on migration be reconciled with public concerns about immigration?  How can progressives build a mainstream political support for immigration reform?


IPPR will undertake new research, analyse existing research, engage with a wide range of experts across different disciplines, engage with policymakers and opinion-formers across the political parties, hold a series of seminars to identify and test new policy ideas, publish an interim report and interim policy papers, and then a final report – aimed both at policymakers and at a wider readership.

In addition to the interim and final reports, policy papers and seminars, there will be a range of media and public outputs, including articles by IPPR staff.

The programme will be organised in four phases over two years:

Phase 1 (autumn 2011) will identify the key political and policy challenges posed by migration for progressives in the UK, and set out the progressive ‘tests’ for a new immigration policy in tackling these challenges. A key part of this phase will be exploring the balance between responding to public concerns, and exercising political leadership in trying to move the debate towards a more constructive and realistic approach.

Phase 2 (summer 2012) will explore in detail the evidence about migration flows and impacts in the UK, and the relevant policy frameworks and constraints, in order to set out detailed policy recommendations which address the challenges identified in Phase 1.

Phase 3 (end 2012) will refine the policy recommendations in the light of external challenge, and consider detailed plans for delivery – including looking at the institutional, cultural, informational and technical aspects of implementation.

Phase 4 (spring 2013) will return to the question of migration politics and consider how the policies and plans established during phases 2 and 3 can be reconciled with public attitudes, including looking at new political narratives for explaining and advocating a progressive immigration policy.