Where will the UK's 850,000 Poles go?

Shannon Roberts
July 23, 2016
Reproduced with Permission
Demography is Destiny

Poland has one of the lowest total fertility rates in the world at just 1.33 in 2015 according to the CIA World Factbook ; something unexpected from a traditionally Catholic country, albeit with a history of communism.

Poland has a history of population depletion after suffering the heaviest proportionate human losses in the world during World War II, amounting to 16 - 17 percent of its population. More recently, the extensive emigration of Polish young people due to a struggle to find attractive work in their home country has caused lower total fertility rates than would be the case otherwise (See our review of the recent film Brooklyn on this very dilemma in relation to Ireland's emigration in the 1950's. The film is a worthwhile human insight into setting up life in a new country due to a lack of employment in your own).

However, on Friday last week Julian Borger questioned in The Guardian whether Poland can now expect some of those immigrants back due to the United Kingdom's recent exit from the European Union and the worsening quality of life for Polish Immigrants to Britain. More than 850,000 of the UK's nearly 3 million European residents are Polish, and Polish women living in the United Kingdom have children at twice the rate they do at home with an average of 2.13 children per woman. Deputy Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, recently told private broadcaster TVN24: "My dream is that they return to Poland. These people have incredible experience ... and financial resources."

Borger's article case studies Marcin Skierniewski, a Pole who has lived in London for the last four years working as a builder to save enough to put some money down on a flat (no easy feat in London). He is apparently not worried by reports of anti-Polish xenophobia as he has plenty of British friends; reports inexplicable given the virtuous and hard-working culture of the Poles. However, he is anxious about the "the cloud of doubt around his life plans"; for instance, his ability to buy a flat is no longer certain because the British government is refusing to guarantee the full residency rights of EU nationals in the UK without a reciprocal deal for Britons living in other EU countries .

Younger Poles may be further attracted back to their home country by its new 'pro-family' government; a government perhaps reflecting on the words of the most famous Pole of recent times Pope John Paul II (now a saint of the Catholic Church) who said "As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live."

Only weeks after her election Polish prime minister, Beata Szydlo, made good on her campaign promise to start paying families monthly bonuses for every child beyond the first, with poor families to receive bonuses for all children. The monthly stipend consists of 500 zlotys (or 114 euros). The new measures are aimed at remedying one of the lowest birth rates in the world and concerns over the country's ability to keep its economy and pension system going. (Given this it seems very odd that there are currently proposals to reverse the previous Polish government's decision to increase the retirement age to 67 to help to adapt to an aging society but I guess that's politics and vote-enticing promises for you).

Despite the boost it would likely bring to fertility rates, many still worry about Poland's ability to receive immigrants back who currently are receiving good incomes in Britain. Despite a recent drop in unemployment, salaries in Poland remain low.

For Poland, the underlying issue creating such low total fertility rates seems to be economic uncertainty; it affects its ability to keep its young people and encourage the ones who remain to have babies. Thus, it is positive that economists from Poland's central bank (NBP) indicate in their latest report that Poland's economy is growing at a stable rate and that unemployment is at an eight year low. Analysts expect the country's GDP to grow 3.2 percent this year and rise 3.5 percent in 2017, which is encouraging.

It will be interesting to see whether the many Poles in Britain return home or to other European Union countries, given the current uncertainty they now face in the UK.