How many migrants live on your street? More than half the people who live in our neighbourhood were born abroad – 53%, according to the census, compared to 13% overall in England and Wales. And about half of them have lived in the area for more than 10 years. That sounds plausible. There are the West Indians who run the carnival costumes house, the Algerian who cuts my hair, our Pakistani fishmonger (five sea bass for a tenner), the Indian girl with the smile at the supermarket, and the grumpy Bangladeshi at the 24/7, the joyful Eritrean family who escaped here as war refugees 15 years ago and now run a brilliant restaurant, the caf’s Italian manager, the Afghan minicab driver whose knowledge of London’s back streets got me out of trouble when I was late for dinner last week...
Without a lot more of Britain looking like this, we’re in financial trouble, according to the Treasury’s official watchdog. Even taking into account the extra demand on public services created by foreign residents, the Office for Budget Responsibility is unambiguous: migrants are good for our public finances, and without many millions more of them, UK growth will drop and our public debt will balloon.
Not only do we need to let more people from abroad “in”, we need to welcome them – so that they register and pay taxes, rather than work in the shadow economy. Uncomfortable reading for the Government, which has committed to reducing immigration to “tens of thousands” a year by the time it leaves office in 2015.
How to do this without piling more pressure on housing, schools and healthcare, and ramping up job competition for Britain’s own young workers? Sounds like the sort of thing that could do with debating ahead of a general election. But is any political leader willing to argue the case for more migrants?