Opinion: Top 10 EU Myths: Part 1

Sephy Hallow's picture

1.      Health Tourism

Possibly the most emotionally-charged, and unfortunately unfounded, debates around the EU has been the concept of “health tourism”: EU and other migrants coming to the UK to leech off our already struggling public healthcare system. But is it true?

The honest answer is, there are definitely some exploits of the NHS by foreign nationals. However, the cost of this is absorbed by the international patients who pay – evidence from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of York, using government-commissioned research, shows that there are twice as many paying patients as there are so-called “health tourists.”

If you're confused by the deluge of numbers that have been banded about by press and government officials alike (many of which are wildly different), here is what the government's own studies have to say.

  • Britain has between 5,000-20,000 “health tourists” per year, at a cost of £60-£80m – 0.06% of the annual NHS budget

  • 18 reviewed NHS trusts showed a profit of £42m from foreign nationals paying for healthcare; there are approximately 530 NHS trusts in the UK, including 161 acute trusts, 56 mental health trusts, and 10 ambulance trusts

Another telling factor as to the increasing cost of the NHS can be seen in its own statistics: on average, there has been an 11% increase in obesity in England from 1993-2010. Additionally, there were 2.8million people with diabetes in 2010 – double the amount in 1996. Add to that the estimated 10million elderly people (over 65s) and an expected population increase of nearly 10million by 2030, and it's not hard to see why the NHS is under strain – and why it has nothing to do with foreigners. 

This might also explain why the NHS's own report on the problems of NHS finance doesn't contain the words “immigration”, “immigrants” or “foreigners”, but does focus on diabetes, obesity, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

2.      Stealing jobs

If they aren't stealing benefits, then foreigners must be stealing our jobs, right? Well, according to the Migration Advisory Committee (a government body), it takes 13 migrants to “displace” one British worker – and it only has an affect when the foreign workers have been in Britain for less than five years. What does this mean? Mostly, that British jobs aren't being given away to foreigners, but also, that on the rare occasion it does happen, the workers are temporary. They aren't here to set up families and claim benefits – they're here to experience Britain, explore the world, do a bit of work (for which they pay income tax) and see the sights – meaning they're also far more likely to spend some of that hard-earned cash in the tourism sector.

3.      Drain on the economy

One of my biggest pet peeves is the notion that EU migrants are a “drain on the economy” of Britain. The facts show that, contrary to popular belief, between 2000-2011, immigrants actually contributed £25bn in taxes – that's £2.27bn per year over more than a decade.

4.      Stealing benefits

One of the more popular money-grabbing myths about EU immigration is that migrants enter the UK to get onto the benefits system, effectively draining our public resources without paying into the system through income tax. However, a study spanning the first 11 years of the millennium shows that migrants are 45% less likely to claim benefits than their UK counterparts, and 3% less likely to live in social housing.  

What's startling is these conclusions were drawn using the government's own figures. Using data from the British Labour Force Survey, professors at University College London additionally found that migrants from the wider EEA area – that's the EU plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein – contributed 34% more in taxes than they received in benefits over the 11-year period.

5.      Brussels makes our laws

This myth terrifies me, mostly because it's propagated by the likes of UKIP, and relies on such a deep misunderstanding of our relationship with the EU that MEPs and political parties should know better.

Simply put: “Brussels”, the shorthand for the EU, does not make any laws. It doesn't make laws for the UK, Germany, France, or any other EU member states. Why? Because it is not a legal body.

What Brussels does is convene to discuss EU regulations, which all member states vote on. Once a regulation is decided, individual countries then must make their own laws in compliance with the regulation, which they helped decide.

Not every voter will agree. But neither will every MP in the House of Commons. “Brussels” is not some controlling entity in the background: it is a commission made up of representatives, including your MEPs, who represent you. If you're worried about UK participation in the EU, check your MEP's voting record – or, more appropriately for some, their attendance record.

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