Immigration is not the problem

When I was nine or thereabouts our family moved from Perry Barr, which would be considered a multicultural inner-city area, to the more suburban Hamstead, which was then pretty much monocultural. I’m fairly convinced that this would be seen as a ‘white flight’ response by some, but I don’t know. After a long period of unemployment—it was the eighties and another Tory recession—our family now had two incomes and moved to a larger house. Larger that our two-up-two-down that is, my and my sister now had our own bedrooms, three bedroom houses just weren’t available where we had been living. Now I’m sure that our moving would be seen by some as a failure of multiculturalism and a problem of immigration—that’s why every party is rushing for the UKIP position.

Immigration is good for the country: it’s good in terms of overall economics, we’re told, and for our cultural mix. Why do politicians tell us it’s good, and yet simultaneously cry “something must be done”? Why do they talk GDP and also spend parliamentary time making it harder for people to come to live in the UK?

Almost everybody, when presented with facts and a tikka masala, can agree immigration is an overall good thing. Even those that don’t, like UKIP or wings of the Tories, have to pretend that they do. So why doesn’t it feel like that for some?

Business people can see the GDP rise and feel safe in the knowledge that they benefit from it, but most people don’t. Since 1979 the GDP of the UK has increased to about seven times what it was, forgetting about inflation, but the average income has just about doubled—the increase in the GDP is all about increase of one figure. It might not have any impact on you ever, and even if you believe the lie of the trickle down economy it might take tens of years. The extra money per head is for the rich, the bosses—the only GDP that directly impacts on you in a way that matters is that of your family unit. Most statistics are about comparision, real life takes a good while to catch up.

There’s no doubt that people moving into a country will provide competition for work, provide competition for housing—there are more people for finite (at one moment in time) resources. Natural ghettoisation and the slow pace of cultural integration (which can take generations) provides pressure points. The poor, those who don’t or can’t move around the country to base themselves where the cultural mix feels right to them, those that see areas change around them while at the same time finding jobs harder to come by, are going to feel put upon.

The ‘free moving consumers’, the hipsters, the humous class, can see the cultural benefits even if they don’t get any more money. New cuisines, new culture, it’s exciting—and they can move away if they don’t like the pace of life or find bits of the culture they liked before being replaced. Not everyone can, not the poor, not those tied by family and work and history to right where they are. Hell, they might even want to stay.

It’s inevitable, but disappointing, when these changes contribute to racist feelings, statements and actions. The issues are complex, and often those affected are amongst those least likely to have easy access to the real facts. What they do get is the racist crap from the mainstream media, fulled and perpetuated by some supposedly mainstream politicians on the pretext of reflecting ‘what people on the street are saying’—a opprobrious loop of protectionism and blame. There must be something beyond the usual left wing response “it’s good,” shutting down any discussion or, more dangerously, “something must be done”.

One other response you hear is that “the NHS wouldn’t function without immigrants” or “who would clean our offices”. Illogical and faintly colonialist it amplifies the myth that “these people” are here to serve us, to do jobs that we wouldn’t want to do.

The worst of it is that Labour and a lot of others on the left are complicit in this narrative—Ed Miliband will address the issue but talk about how to minimise immigration; this supposedly good thing. The only way to get past that is talking about issues of class, something the modern leftist parties are very scared of. The problem is that the concerns the working class might have about immigration, are “genuine”. They’re not lying. But they are not “right”—in a moral sense, nor in the context of a county and a culture as a whole.

What is happening right now is that people are being convinced what they feel is due to something different than what it really is—the problem isn’t that incoming Polish people might have jobs, but that not everyone has one. That’s what we need people to stand up and say.

If my Dad eventually moves out to Warwickshire in retirement as he talks about—is that going to be a failure of immigration policy? Is he a UKIP target, worried about the influx of people from Eastern Europe? I doubt it, he just fancies being out in the countryside.

Immigration is good, in wide terms, but without support, jobs, housing for all that reside in a country, then some people will lose out. Some will be those immigrants, some will be those already living there—a poor native has much more in common with a poor immigrant than either have with a rich man, to say anything else is deliberately divisive. People are finding decently paid work, decent and affordable housing, and propped social support difficult to come by—and that’s because it isn’t there. That’s down to the policies of successive governments and their business mates, not the people that are sharing the space.

We haven’t the money, they’ll say: but if immigration is good for the economy there’ll be more tax money to help pay for the support—won’t there?

Author: Jon Bounds

14th Most Influential Person in the West Midlands 2008, subsequently not placed. His new book about visiting every seaside pier in England and Wales — Pier Review — has been described as “On the Road meets On the Buses”, it's out now. Jon wrote and directed the first ever piece of drama to be performed on Twitter and founded the famous blog Birmingham: It's Not Shit.