Immigration is an issue that has been at the heart of heated public debate since the Second World War. It is a topic that has fuelled election campaigns and nationalist political agendas. It is a subject that nobody wants to talk about, but everybody wants dealt with. Immigration is the trump card for any party that aims for power, and seems to have become a purely electoral issue. The political right is particularly intolerant towards immigration and immigrants, and is often accused of inciting racial hatred and xenophobia for party political ends. However, immigration figures have recently been disputed as being "little better than a best guess", and therefore current debate should perhaps focus on the effectiveness of The Border Agency during a time of austerity. The 2011 Census found that 7.5 million people (13% of the population) were born overseas, most of whom came from India, Poland, Pakistan, Ireland, and Germany. Historically, migrants have settled in Britain for more than 2000 years, but it is only since the end of the British Empire that immigration has been interpreted as a serious social concern.
The political right has always found fault with immigration levels, believing that they should be heavily restricted. Nationalists, such as the BNP, prescribe the view that there is not enough food and water for everyone in the UK, that the UK is overcrowded, and that immigrants cause increased crime. All of these claims are exaggerated to create a distorted sense of insecurity among the public. In terms of food shortage claims, this is wholly untrue. The planet produces enough food to feed 10 billion people (some report as much as 12 billion), and the UK in fact wastes an estimated 15 million tonnes of food per year. According to its immigration policy, UKIP suggests that the UK is overcrowded. It claims that, “England, where the majority of people live, is one of the most densely populated countries in the world: more densely populated than China, India and Japan.” The UN falsifies this claim; UKIP does not even offer a source for its data. This reliance on unreliable information is a worrying development for a party that seeks to prove itself as a viable political force. Furthermore, the perception that immigrants cause more crime has been disputed in a recent study by the London School of Economics, which found that there was less crime overall during periods of high immigration.
The biggest issue that the political right has with immigrants is that they do not contribute towards our public services. Economically, immigration has many huge benefits. Working immigrants pay income tax and National Insurance; considering many immigrants are young and healthy, they are less likely to be a strain on our health services that predominantly subsidise an ageing population. In 2002, Home Office research indicated that immigrants pay £2.5 billion more in taxes than they take in benefits. In 2005 the Institute for Public Policy research suggested that the net fiscal contribution of immigrants over a period of five years was higher than that of UK-born nationals. In June, the OECD reported that immigrants make a net contribution of £16.3 billion to the economy. The Guardian also recently reported that evidence from the Office for Budget Responsibility showed that if immigration were stopped, within five years the national debt would be £18 billion higher. The evidence clearly demonstrates that immigrants generate wealth, rather than remove it.
Furthermore, immigrants work in many vital jobs. 30% of our doctors and 40% of our nurses are immigrants. This factor contradicts an assumption that immigrants are uneducated - just under 30% of immigrants from outside the EU and 35% of immigrants from EU14* countries are graduates, ahigher proportion than that of the UK. Thousands of foreign students come to study in the UK, paying significantly higher tuition fees than those of domestic students, which can be as much as £33,000 per year for some courses. Such high fees contribute to our own educational institutions and therefore, UK students also benefit.
Without immigration, cultural Britain would also be a much less colourful place. Without immigrants, there would be no Chinese, Indian, Italian, Nepalese, Mexican, French, or even ‘Fusion’ food restaurants. There would be no Tesco, M&S supermarkets or Selfridges. Engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s father was a French immigrant, so no Clifton Suspension Bridge or GWR either. Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis was an Austrian who lived in London. Many ‘British’ people in the public eye come from immigrant backgrounds. Our monarchy is not ‘British’, but German. Andrew Bonar-Law, Prime Minister from 1922 to 1923, was born in Canada. Football, cricket, athletics, and our Olympic 2012 team, would look very different without immigration. Architect Zaha Hadid, who designed the London Olympics Aquatics Centre and the Serpentine Gallery, is from Iraq but lives in Britain, and the designer of the London 2012 Olympic tower is Indian-born UK artist Anish Kapoor. T.S. Eliot, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature lived in Britain, but was American, and author JRR Tolkien was South African, and also moved to Britain. German philosopher Karl Marx lived and is buried in London. Our music, art, literature, and language has been created, crafted, and influenced by people and cultures from every corner of the globe.
We owe the foundations of modern British culture to immigration. We have always welcomed people who want to contribute to our society and we always must if we aim to be a positive example to the world.
By Soila Apparicio
*EU 14 Countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden