Get economics and you’ll get immigration

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Study shows attitudes improve with financial literacy

A survey has found that “financially literate” people are the more likely to see immigration as positive than those with little or no understanding of economics.

Passionate, but likely to have a limited appreciation of high finance, according to BES survey
Passionate, but likely to have a limited appreciation of high finance, according to BES survey

Academic group, the British Election Study (BES), questioned up to 30,000 people and found that the greater respondents’ understanding of inflation, interest rates and risk diversification, the more likely they were to welcome immigration and its cultural and economic benefits.

Dr George Panos (University of Glasgow) and Prof Robert E. Wright (University of Strathclyde) undertook the survey to challenge persistent negative attitudes towards immigrants. Their work followed a 2014 study by economists at University College London, which found that immigrants put more into the economy through taxes than they take out in benefits and welfare support. Research has also shown consistently that immigrants do not take jobs away or forces down the earnings wages of native-born workers.

Panos and Wright reasoned that understanding the role played by immigrants in a modern economy such as the UK requires a considerable understanding of economics and finance, particularly the relationship immigrants have to the labour market.

Some of the questions asked included, “Do you think that immigration undermines or enriches Britain’s cultural life?’ and “Do you think immigration is bad or good for the economy?”

Even after factoring in user control variables such as gender, age, political orientation, income and education, “financial literacy” was still shown to have the most substantial effect on participants’ attitude to immigration. The survey concluded that the fact that skilled migrants contribute more to the economy than they take out it should be more widely publicised coming up to the 2015 election.

Sanwar Ali, editor of immigration advice website workpermit.com says: “Surveys by the BES are of great importance. It is important to hear different points of views. Not just anti-immigration propaganda from politicians desperate for votes.”

Further analysis, again based on a survey of 30,000 voters, found that as many as one in five of the 10 million voters who supported the Conservatives in 2010 are on the verge of defecting to UKIP. It suggests that the rise of UKIP will damage the Tories significantly more than Labour, which is set to lose 500,000 voters to Nigel Farage’s party, and the Lib Dems, who are expected to lose 700,000 voters.

Financial literacy is the ability to use knowledge and skills to effectively manage financial resources at a personal-level. It is more than numeracy—“being good with numbers”—although numeracy is important in its own right. It includes for example the understanding of compound interest rates, nominal and real interest rates and financial risk diversification.

The USA President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability defines personal financial literacy as the: “… ability to use knowledge and skills to manage financial resources effectively for a lifetime of financial well-being”. People who are more financially literate have been shown to make savvier decisions pertaining to real estate purchases, insurance purchases, investing, saving, tax planning, retirement planning and pension planning.

The British Election Study (BES) has been conducted at every General Election since 1964. The study looks at why people vote, and why they vote the way they do. The BES covers political preferences and values; dispositions to engage in different forms of political activity; and individual and household socio-demographic characteristics.

Innovations for the digital age include the harvesting of twitter data in the campaign, the use of interactive technologies to map the personal social contexts of respondents, and the use of experimental methodology to enable comparison across the BES series. The study will develop an integrated data infrastructure for the study of elections through a program of data linkage and training.