British towns with the most immigrants and highest levels of diversity tend to do far better economically than areas with little, a study has found.
An analysis of local authorities in England and Wales shared with The Independent shows a strong link “between rising prosperity and rising diversity” – with diverse areas doing better “almost regardless of which metric you use”.
The study, commissioned by anti-racism charity Hope Not Hate is a challenge to negative perceptions of immigration, and concludes that “growing diversity is an inevitable part of increasing prosperity – and, potentially, a contributor to it”.
It also makes recommendations about how the government and local councils can manage demographic change alongside economic growth.
The study looked at indicators in 285 council areas outside of big cities, including economic growth, house prices, reductions in deprivation, employment, and wages between 2011 and 2019.
It then compared these factors to metrics like the proportion of the population born outside the UK, the proportion whose parents were born outside the UK, the extent to which the population is transient, and the local level of non-white British ethnic heritage.
The areas looked at excluded London boroughs and areas in other larger UK cities; by contrast the selection covered 49 of the 53 so-called “Red Wall” seats won by the Conservatives in the 2019 election.
The results were striking: the 50 places with the highest rises in GDP through the 2010s saw their non-UK born communities grow at more than twice the pace of the 50 authorities with the lowest GDP rises.
Similar results were found on other metrics: the 50 towns with the highest increase in property values saw the number of births to non-UK born mothers increase at three times the pace of the 50 council areas with the smallest property price increases.
Areas where deprivation eased had twice as rapid an increase in non-UK born populations than areas where deprivation intensified.
And in communities with an above-average level of population transience, the median salary rose by £3,379 during the period studied, faster than the £3,307 in those with below-average transience.
On jobs the study found the 50 local authorities with the greatest increase in employment during the 2010s saw an average 2.2 per cent increase in their non-British populations, compared to the 50 with the smallest rises that saw just 0.8 per cent.
The report recommends that the government should acknowledge the relationship between growth and diversity, and that the Home Office should update its immigration rules to “support the process by which communities get more diverse”.
The charity also calls for targeted funding for areas to “ensure that economic growth is accompanied by investment in infrastructure” to accommodate population rises.
“Failure to do so can easily swell into community tensions,” the report warns, citing housing, GP access, community facilities, and school funding as important areas of focus.
And the report, set to be released on Monday, also calls on politicians to use inclusive language and to stop perpetuating fallacies about immigration, which might get in the way of communities living together.
It also recommends and end to the government’s “hostile environment” policies that make life difficult for new arrivals.
“Our research reveals that the places within our field of study which saw the greatest economic advances during the 2010s were also, on average, those which saw the biggest increases in population diversity,” the study’s authors wrote.
“The extent to which this pattern sustains itself throughout our research is striking. There are positive correlations between rising prosperity and rising diversity across the board, almost regardless of which metric you use.
Chris Clarke, the report’s author, told The Independent: “This research suggests that migration and ethnic diversity are inextricably linked to economic growth in our towns and regions, just as much as in big cities.
“Diverse communities are an inherent and inevitable part of ‘levelling up’, and must be understood as a positive if it’s to be a successful policy.
“A commitment to building solidarity and cohesion must run through the ‘levelling up’ agenda like a stick of rock – with the rhetoric and mindset of ‘hostile environment’ being firmly consigned to the past.”