Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Immigrants? A suggestion for showing what they do for us.

Over the past few months immigration has been in the news consistently, with horse trading over the accuracy of the International Passenger Survey (used by the government to estimate net migration), calls by the right-wing think tank Demos to restrict EU migration (impossible under EU law) and the Bongo Bongo Land debacle arising from Godfrey Bloom's (a UK Independence Party MEP) intemperate remarks. One of the most persistent stories, however, has been the row over the mobile billboards telling undocumented migrants to go home. Media coverage of this issue has focused more on the fractures in the coalition government about this practice and its race-to-the-bottom nastiness than on any serious discussion about how policy makers might deal with the undocumented or ‘irregular’ migration. It's a problem we cannot ignore and it is also a problem we seem to be unable to keep in perspective or have a reasoned debate about.

Let's take a report on Sky News today headlined 'Immigration: Britons want drastic action' (here) One statistic quoted was the fact that more than a quarter of those polled (27%) believe the wave of immigration Britain has experienced in the last decade has brought no positive benefit to the nation. This goes unchallenged by Sky. Maybe I can't convince the 27% that they are wrong but what I can do is to suggest a way of showing how much we depend on immigrants. Let's call for "A Day without Immigrants". Wouldn’t that demonstrate, once and for all, that neither our economy nor our society needs migrants? That they are a burden, rather than a blessing?

This isn't a new idea: I'm using something from the USA as a model. “A Day Without Immigrants” was the name given to a rather
innovative series of protests in the US in 2006, which brought more than a million Latinos on to the streets of 50 cities, from New York to Los Angeles. They boycotted shops, schools and their places of work to try to highlight the plight of undocumented migrant workers.

That was the USA but I’d do it slightly differently over here. Here's what I'd do: anyone in the UK born abroad or with a parent born abroad would stay at home for 24 hours. Any business or organisation founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant would close for the day. Britain would be transformed – but, regrettably for the immigration-bashers, in a wholly negative way. In fact, I suspect it would be a pretty awful 24 hours for most Britons. Here's why I think that.

Let’s start with the trivial stuff. Who would serve us in restaurants or coffee shops? Who would make our sandwiches and wraps at lunchtime? What would be the point of going out to eat in the evening if there were no longer any Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Japanese, Mexican, Turkish, Lebanese, Persian, Italian, Spanish and French restaurants open?

What about our health? Who’d patch us up and prescribe our medicines? Ministers and the right-wing press like to scaremonger
about the spiralling costs of so-called health tourism (which amounts to a shocking 0.01 per cent of the £109bn NHS budget) and exaggerate the numbers of migrant families that turn up expecting free treatment in our overstretched A & E departments. The reality, as the chair of the council of the Royal College of GPs, Dr Clare Gerada, has pointed out, is that “you are much more likely to have an immigrant caring for you than sitting up in front of the emergency department”. About 30 per cent of the doctors and 40 per cent of the nurses working in the health service were born abroad. Think about those numbers: the NHS simply could not survive 24 hours without its migrant workforce.

The same applies to the social-care sector. If we have an elderly or sick relative living in a care home, we might have to take the day off to look after them. In 2009 a fifth of all care assistants and home
carers – 135,000 people in total – were foreign-born; in London, 60 per cent of care workers were migrants. Speaking of taking the day off, neither the Deputy Prime Minister nor the leader of the opposition would have to turn up to Westminster for PMQs – Nick Clegg is the son of a Dutch mother and half-Russian father and, as we all know from recent events, Ed Miliband is the child of Polish refugees.

Meanwhile, the Chancellor would have to go to the Commons to warn that “A Day Without Immigrants” would, if extended over a year, force him to introduce a further £7bn of spending cuts and/or tax rises. Why? Because migrants boost the British economy by £7bn a year, according to an OECD study published in June. That’s the equivalent of an extra 2p on the basic rate of income tax.

Sticking with the economy, we’d have to board up iconic British stores such as Marks & Spencer (co-founder: Michael Marks of Belarus), Selfridges (founder: the American Harry Gordon Selfridge) and Tesco (founder: Jacob Kohen, son of Avram, a Polish migrant). UK holidaymakers would have to cancel their cheap flights on easyJet (founder: the Greek born Stelios Haji-Ioannou).

Our universities would take a hit, too, if foreign students stayed away. One in ten students in British universities comes from outside the EU and the fees that students from other countries pay are a bigger source of income for most universities than research grants.

What about sport? Imagine going to watch a Premier League game midweek as a Liverpool fan. Luis Suárez wouldn’t be playing. If we’re 
Ismail Yakubu
a Man United fan, we’d miss out on the ball skills of Robin van Persie; if we’re a Man City fan, it’d be Yaya Touré on strike. Chelsea fans? Say goodbye to Juan Mata and Eden Hazard. Good grief: even we Newport County supporters would be affected as we say nos dda to
Ismail Salami Yakubu.

If we were planning on using the Tube in London we’d find it in a pretty filthy state, the train platforms tagged with graffiti and strewn with rubbish: 95 per cent of London Underground cleaning staff are foreign-born. It wouldn’t just be the District Line that was dirty, it would also be our places of work: 89 per cent of office cleaners in the capital are migrants.

But the countryside would be fine, right? Wrong. Imagine all those unpicked crops and the effect: the rise in food prices, supermarkets opting for (cheaper) foreign over domestic produce, fruit farmers on their knees. The truth is that “native” Brits have not been interested in fruit-picking for years and, as the Home Office’s own Migration Advisory Committee warned in May, many of the UK’s fruit-picking businesses could close without new migrant workers from outside the EU.

So that's it: a one-day strike by immigrants and their children across the UK, coupled with a ban on the use of immigrant-founded
businesses by the “indigenous” population. Just for a day. Let’s do it. And if it doesn’t change public opinion (like the 27% the Sky News report mentions), well, at least some of us would have the day off work.

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