by Les May
IN a recent article I made reference to the fall in the UK birth rate since 1960, and the impact this will have on my children's generation. But the UK is not alone in this regard. A fall in the birth rate since 1960 is a phenomenon which is common to all 28 EU countries according to William Reville, emeritus professor of biochemistry at University College Cork.
In an article headed 'Why is Europe losing the will to breed?' in last Thursday's Irish Times Reville points out that to keep the population of a country constant it is necessary for each woman to give birth to 2.1 children on average. He provides data which shows that the mean birthrate throughout the EU is only 1.56. Ireland has the highest birth rate of 1.94 and Portugal the lowest at 1.23, though there are four more countries where the birth rate is less than 1.4. For comparison the present birth rate in the UK is 1.81.
He goes on to say :
'European societies increasingly are no longer self sustaining. For example, if current trends continue, every new generation of Spaniards will be 40% smaller than the previous one. In Italy the percentage of the population over 65 will increase from 2.7% now to 18.8% in 2050. By 2060 the population of Germany is projected to drop from 81 millions to 67 millions and by 2030 the UN projects that by 2030 the percentage of Germans in the work force will drop by 7% to 54%. In order to compensate for this shortage Germany needs to absorb 533,000 immigrants per year, which puts Angela Merkel's current immigration policy into context.'
As I have argued in an earlier article this matters because the non-working section of the population, children, older people, the sick and the disabled, rely upon the surplus generated by the fraction of the population which is working. Such a situation is only sustainable if the fraction of the working, i.e. younger, population is sufficiently high both to support themselves and generate a large enough surplus.
But as Reville points out in the longer term this immigration is not a solution because when the birth rate falls to about 1.5 even immigration will not hold the population steady over time.
Whilst I have focussed upon the fact that for the immediate future there seems little alternative to continued immigration whichever side is victorious in the upcoming referendum, the economic case is only part of the picture. Large scale migration has an impact upon the host society.
As Reville puts i:
'European civilisation has given the world many cherished values, freedoms and institutions, including the classical legacy of Greece and Rome; the rule of law; the separation of church and state; modern science; individual freedom; a fabulous heritage of music, painting, sculpture and architecture, and more.'
This too matters, because quoting Reville again:
'European values are not universal and there is no necessary reason to expect other civilisations to adopt these values simply because they come to Europe to partake of the technical and commercial fruits of western civilisation.'
It is fashionable to ignore such concerns and to dismiss those who raise them as 'xenophobic' or 'racist', but there is a good moral case to be made for taking a more robust approach to immigration.
Immigration benefits the individual migrant; immigrants make the journey in search of a better life.
It benefits a receiving nation like the UK by adding to the workforce and helps produce that surplus which will pay the pensions of those retiring around the year 2030. But it impoverishes the donor nation especially when the migrant is a well qualified young person who has been trained at the expense of the donor nation.
There is nothing new in this. After the WW2 the UK needed to produce and export as much as possible, (and build the Welfare State on the surplus). So immigration from countries like Ireland was encouraged. An elderly friend who died a year ago came from Ireland at the age of 26 in 1948 to work in a Castleton (Rochdale) mill and did not think it an indignity that a medical check was made to make sure she was not pregnant. Being as she put it 'a big strong farm girl' she was given better paid 'men's work' and became a mule spinner. And very happy she was to spend the rest of her life here.
In Germany, Angela Merkel's cabinet has approved new measures to help the country to deal with the influx of more than a million new immigrants. In return for a package providing immigrants with better access to the job market and the creation of 100,000 government funded 'job opportunities', migrants will be expected to undertake orientation and language courses. The cabinet statement said:
'Learning the German language quickly, rapid integration in training, studies and the labour market, and an understanding of and compliance with the principles of living together in our society and compliance with our laws are essential for successful integration... The newcomers are to become good neighbours and citizens, which will enable us to strengthen social cohesion and prevent parallel structures in our country.'
This contrast sharply with what to date has been the UK approach which has sometimes generated an exceptionalism in the name of multi-culturalism. Recently Labour MP Chuka Umunna has launched a new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on social integration. Whether it will 'bite the bullet' in quite the way that the German cabinet has I don't know. Unless it argues the case for investment in integrating migrants into our way of life it may just prove to be another talking shop.
If you don't like my argument that immigration is necessary to pay the pensions of my children's generation the answer is in your own hands. Go forth and multiply.