The Migration Observatory has shifted thinking on contentious migration issues by providing the first UK source of independent, high-quality evidence and analysis aimed at public audiences.

Impacts

  • Migration Observatory experts have featured in 1,000 high-profile media stories, reaching diverse radio, TV and press audiences, and prompting more nuanced media coverage on polarised issues such as the assumption that EU immigration is driven by 'welfare benefits tourism'.
  • The Migration Observatory has become the first port of call for media outlets seeking impartial analysis of migration issues, with the Sunday Telegraph describing it as 'the most respected body on UK migration' and the Daily Mail describing it as 'independent' and 'respected'.
  • The Observatory website has been visited by nearly two million people since the 2011 launch; with 306,000 downloads of the Migrants in the UK report, and 90,560 downloads of the Britain's '70 Million' debate report on the role of migration in population growth.
  • Evidence and analysis from the Migration Observatory is frequently cited by policymakers and parliamentarians in parliamentary debates, reports and briefing notes, and Observatory researchers regularly meet policymakers. For instance, during the EU referendum Migration Observatory Director Madeleine Sumption gave evidence to the House of Lords' EU Committee and briefed staff from all major political parties as well as local authority officials across the UK.
  • The Observatory team's tailored, accessible information helps civil society organisations – including legal advice charities, trade unions, organisations campaigning for both tighter and looser immigration controls, and NGOs working on immigrant integration – contribute more effectively to migration debates.

About the research

"Before the Migration Observatory, there was no completely impartial source of information on migration for journalists, policymakers and civil society, " says Director Madeleine Sumption. "If people wanted detailed analysis they had to take it with a heavy spin from organisations pushing their own agenda."

"Migration debates can be very polarised and toxic," she continues. "We set out to slowly improve the way in which news organisations, policymakers and the general public understand this complex and highly nuanced subject."

Since its launch in 2011, the Migration Observatory has gained a reputation for doing just that. Last year, Ms Sumption and her team guided the debate on why EU migrants come to the UK onto some surer footing.

"There was a pretty widespread narrative that welfare benefits were attracting EU migrants, but figures actually show that the share of migrants who receive in work welfare benefits is – at between 10 and 20% – too small to be a major driver," she points out. "Evidence shows that employment is what drives the vast majority of migrants here. Following a lot of contact with journalists, briefings and discussions, these conclusions were reported widely in all sections of the press."

Providing evidence on what people want to know about migration rather than making policy recommendations is, she believes, one reason for the wide coverage which their work receives. "There's no right answer with migration issues, so recommendations are always coloured by values and political opinion rather than just evidence."

Being trusted by all types of media and from all sides of the political spectrum is ultimately the Observatory's key achievement, says Madeleine Sumption. "In a debate like immigration which is so characterised by mistrust, it has been extraordinarily difficult to create a resource that everybody agrees is objective and balanced."