Friday, 30 May 2014

Immigration: No more pandering to prejudice

Immigration is good. There, I've said it. Now I wait to be struck down by a thunder bolt.

A country that attracts immigrants is a healthy country. It boasts a growing economy, a stable society, and offers a safe environment for children to grow up in. Its people live under the rule of law, with freedom of speech and of religion. It's a country of which I'm immeasurably proud to be a citizen.

Without immigrants, Britain would be a much poorer place. It would be hungrier, dirtier and less healthy. It's immigrants who pick and pack the food that we eat, immigrants who clean our offices and streets, immigrants who keep the NHS going and care for the elderly in their homes and nursing homes. (A quarter of NHS doctors are non-British, and according to the British Medical Association, "many NHS services would struggle to provide effective care to their patients" without non-British staff.)

In many of our biggest towns and cities, it's immigrants and their British-born children who drive the buses, trains and taxis, and immigrants who serve us our early morning coffee on the way to work. If they all went on strike on the same day, the country would quickly grind to a stand-still.

Some of my best friends are immigrants. Come to that, my own parents were immigrants, refugees from Nazi Germany. During my 23 years working for the BBC, some of my most interesting, dynamic and imaginative colleagues were immigrants.

To me, these are the truths that are absurdly self-evident. Immigrants tend to be young, energetic, and ambitious. They are risk-takers, otherwise they wouldn't be here. They run our corner shops and the late-night takeaways, they start their own businesses, pay taxes, employ staff, create wealth.

Stelios Haji-Ioannou of easyJet fame is just one of countless immigrants who have been of immense benefit to British national life. Mr Marks, of M&S, was a Jewish immigrant from Belarus, Mr Selfridge was from the American state of Wisconsin, Tesco was founded by Jack Cohen, the son of an immigrant from Poland. In Silicon Valley in California, where so many of the world's most exciting technology innovations are developed, more than half the corporate chief executives are foreign-born.

So how come no one is saying any of this? How come our political leaders seem to believe that the only way to confront UKIP is by parroting its prejudices? Since when was it the job of leaders to bow to bigotry? (To their credit, former Labour Cabinet ministers John Hutton and Alan Milburn did write a broadly pro-immigration piece in The Times on Tuesday.)

"Immigrants take our jobs." Wrong. They do the jobs for which there are no, or not enough, suitable British applicants.

"They undercut British workers' wage levels." Wrong. It's employers, not employees, who set wage levels. No immigrant wants to work for poverty-level wages.

"They sponge off the welfare state." Wrong.  According to a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, immigrants from the eight central and eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 were 59 per cent less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits and 57 per cent less likely to live in social housing. What's more, the OECD has estimated that on average, households headed by migrants in the UK contributed about €3,000 more than they received in benefits in 2007-2009.

"The country is over-crowded; we haven't got room for any more." Wrong. We may be a bit more crowded than other EU countries, but UK population density is still way below that of Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, South Korea, India and Japan. The UK problem isn't lack of space, it's lack of housing.

"Romanians and Bulgarians will flood in to the UK as soon as restrictions on them are lifted at the end of 2013." Wrong. There were an estimated 144,000 Romanian and Bulgarian workers in the UK at the end of last year. Three months later, the number was 4,000 lower. Yes, lower.

I am a Londoner, I live in London, and I delight in the capital's kaleidoscopic culture. Unlike Nigel Farage, I love it when I hear foreign languages being spoken on the bus or train: was that Russian or Polish? Hausa or Yoruba? Urdu or Hindi? Does it really matter that I can't understand what my fellow passengers are saying? After all, they aren't speaking to me, and it makes me proud that so many foreigners want to come here.

The world's most successful economy and most dynamic nation has at the entrance to its main historic immigration gateway a giant, torch-bearing statue, famously inscribed with the words: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Its freely elected head of state is the son of an immigrant father. (In fact, our own head of state, admittedly not elected, freely or otherwise, is herself descended from immigrants.)

By the way, some immigrants are criminals. Some of them are murderers, cheats, and swindlers. Just like the rest of us. But the vast majority of them are decent, law-abiding men and women who have chosen to come to Britain because they admire it and think they can prosper here.

According to the findings of the latest British Social Attitudes survey, reported in The Guardian this week, 30 per cent of the people questioned described themselves as either very or a little prejudiced against people of a different race. That's a lot higher than I would like it to be, but it also suggests that 70 per cent don't regard themselves as prejudiced.

The lies that UKIP voters (and not only UKIP voters) apparently believe about immigrants are just that: lies. It is the job of responsible politicians -- and the media -- to counter them. But I won't hold my breath …


Anonymous said...

"Since when was it the job of leaders to bow to bigotry?" Since it became clear that in a democracy they have a fair chance of not being our leaders much longer if they don't.

Lesley Hampson said...

Robin Lustig has set out an excellent case for the benefits of immigration. I have been banging on about it for years!
Think our policicians should echo some of his words to counter the prejudice.

Mike Jempson said...

Wouldn't it be nice to think that politicians from all the main parties could or would express what Robin has written so succinctly...

Anonymous said...

Mr Lustig says "so how come nobody is saying this?"
They are - It is heard repeatedly from many, but completely misses the point. Even Nigel Farage agrees that immigration has, and continues to be an important building block of our Nation.
The essence is whether UNCONTROLLED immigration is better than CONTROLLED immigration. The inability to plan(housing,schools,NHS etc) for unknown numbers and the shock change in culture caused by large numbers in some parts of the country are hugely important issues.

Repetitive rants about the benefits of immigration completely miss the point and deliberately dumb down the discussion. The issue is not immigration - good or bad? It is the quantity and quality of immigration.

Andrew Draper said...

Well said, Robin. I've been an immigrant once and know that immigrants bring a different dimension to their new country.

Anonymous said...

This is total rubbish. You are using the example of the USA when getting a 'Green Card' is very difficult and the percentage of immigrants versus the total population is quite low.

Also they embrace the 'e pluribus unum' approach whereby people speak ENGLISH.

Your fatuous argument is that it doesn't matter about numbers, or quality, of the immigrants or even having ANY BORDER CONTROLS WHATSOEVER ! Why are the US building a fence on the border with Mexico ? For decoration ?

Your asinine point about population density, comparing with Hong Kong (HONG KONG!?) ignores the fact that Scotland dilutes the population density, and if that is excluded England is very crowded indeed.

And if we just build more houses, then just as building the M25 has created more, not less traffic, is not solving the problem. But then you probably live somewhere where you are not exposed to the toughest implications of the huge scale of mass uncontrolled migration.

Robbo said...

Dear Robin,
I agree with pretty much all you say. The problem, though, is that for years no-one would discuss the issue and the problems that immigration, or that were perceived to spring from immigration, brought. Anyone who asked a question was immediately labelled racist.

On Europe, the UK joined in the belief that it was to be a trading block when those in the know always intended a political and economic union. Again, for years, those at the top have lied, bluffed and deceived people about the true intentions.

And so now we have UKIP.

We can indeed hope that our elected - and unelected in the EU in Brussels, leaders grasp the nettle and quickly make some major reforms to Europe that address the real concerns of the people.

And we should hope that instead of tinkering with help to buy schemes and overseeing continuous prestige building projects bought up by the wealthy from overseas, a mass building project is begun to provide easily affordable housing for ordinary people, especially in the South East of England.

There is plenty of room for building if a bit of imagination is applied.

Without some serious and quick changes I fear we will see an increase in UKIP, or worse, BNP support.

Richard Williams said...

"The inability to plan (housing, schools, NHS etc) for unknown numbers..."

I'm not entirely sure that immigration is entirely the cause for those at all, bearing in mind that these issues have been widely seen as an issue for this country for a much longer time before the scares over migrant numbers. Overcrowded schools, long housing waiting lists, a deficit of enough housing, lack of hospital spaces- all were familiar complaints well before 2004 and before the accession of countries like Poland to the EU and subsequent migration to these shores.

Anonymous said...

The point about immigration is it mirrors the traffic problem in Bristol. Nobody minds people driving their cars into work.

But the idea that there has to be an 'open border' means everyone drives in, and as the population of Bristol has grown, it has led to gridlock.

The problem simply needs some 'demand management'. Just as London has a congestion charge and Bristol is implementing 'residents' parking zones, it is not 'discriminating' against the 'wrong colour car'. It is making people think about alternatives, and getting people to accept hourly limits for the roads.

If we say we have 'open borders', then it is one thing to say One Million can come in 4 years, to saying 4 million can come in one year - even with the extra tax they bring in, the infrastructure for roads, schools and hospitals cannot cope with that rate of change.

So when you say 'immigration is a good thing', that is as meaningless as saying "It is good that people can drive into Bristol". Without a policy for where they are going to park, and managing the congestion at peak times, it is as meaningless as saying 'all liquids are nutritious'.

This issue demands a far higher level of debate than that.

Anonymous said...

You are 100 years out of date Robin - this small country is overcrowded or perhaps you are away too much to see this. When I look at the standard of those in Calais trying to get in frankly I shudder and please I am NOT a racist. I always read your reports with interest. Regards. Joseph.Shirley.

Anonymous said...

"UK population density is still way below that of Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangladesh .... The UK problem isn't lack of space, it's lack of housing." So we should build over more of the countryside. That's that problem solved.
Immigrants are good people but enough is enough. I like national tradition and culture and think the purpose of politics is to protect the good things from our tradition.