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Kerry-anne Mendoza examines the reasons behind immigration policy concerns

We hear a lot from politicians, in UKIP and beyond, that we need to have a conversation about immigration. We do, just not the one we are having.

The immigration debate is relentless. Anti-immigration groups like to pretend it is some taboo topic, but this is simply not true. Immigration features in almost every instalment of BBC Question Time. The Sun and the Daily Mail run hostile immigration stories every day and they are the most widely read newspapers in the country. If you watch any news programme, televised political debate, or read any newspaper – immigration will feature heavily.

But however you feel about immigration – what if, just for a moment, you suspend that opinion and ask a question. What am I really concerned about?

If your answer is something about ‘changing culture’, there is little I can say to you that you will like. Change happens. Wave after wave of immigration has changed the diets, attitudes, technology, employment, and everyday life of countries the world over throughout history, and will continue to do so. We cannot pick a moment in time and seal our nation in aspic.

But if your answer relates to the impact of immigration on jobs, school places, housing, welfare and the NHS – well then there is a conversation to be had. The reason many make this connection between immigrants and scarcity, is not stone-cold racism. It is because the people they trust – the journalists in their newspaper, the hosts of their favourite political TV shows and their elected representatives – are all telling them such a link exists.

Between work, bringing up their children, supporting their families and friends – many people will not have the time, or even good reason, to look beyond these sources of information.

But if they did, they would get a shock.

The UK is not, as we are so often told, a ‘soft touch’ on immigration. Asylum applications constitute just 7% of net migration numbers, with only 33% of applicants granted asylum.

Newcomers (immigrants) compose about 9% of the UK population.  This is lower than Australia (24%), Germany (13%), the U.S. (12.8%) and France (10%).

It also turns out that those immigrants we do have, are not milking us dry. Not only do European immigrants (the majority of newcomers) pay significantly more in taxes than they claim in benefits, but according to the DWPs own figures they are less likely to claim benefits than UK citizens.

These are the facts about immigration. So why are they never mentioned? Why are the people paid to inform and represent the British public not telling them this?

The reason is simple. While they have us all busy blaming immigrants for under-funded hospitals and schools, un-cleaned streets, the housing crisis, the lack of well-paid, secure jobs, and the many other issues facing us on a daily basis, we are not blaming them. While we are asking about immigration, we are not asking about the banking scandals, the child sexual abuse scandals, the privatization of public services, the social cleansing of working class families from our cities by renegade landlords, or the profiteering that is bankrupting the NHS and our schools.

We shouldn’t give up hostile views on immigration because we’re worried people might think we’re racist, but because they’ll know we’ve been had.

Banging on about immigration diverts people from the real source of their problems. People in this country are not poorer, in less secure jobs, struggling to find decent and affordable housing, and concerned for the futures of their children because of immigrants. Immigrants are not responsible for these issues. These crises are the responsibility of our political and corporate elite: the people with the most money and the most power. Much tougher opponents in fact than a bunch of asylum seekers and immigrants.

This is the conversation we need to have about immigration.

Now you know the truth about immigration, you have a choice to make. You could ignore it. It’s inconvenient and puts the burden for making this nation great upon you, rather than simply expelling non-citizens. You could, however, make another choice. You could choose to use this information to make your life better. You could refuse to vote for any party that pretends immigration is the issue. You could create, join or support the incredible campaigns that are challenging the powerful people responsible for our woes. You could stop watching the programs, buying the newspapers, and supporting the politicians that profit from telling you lies. You could become a part of the solution. Today, right now. It’s up to you.


Kerry-anne Mendoza is author of ‘Austerity: The Demolition of the Welfare State and the Rise of the Zombie Economy’, New Internationalist (2015) and a journalist from Bristol.

Photo: Icars

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