Christina Patterson: The truth about immigration that will never go away

 

Share
Related Topics

On Monday, in a local shop, I cried. I cried because I was saying goodbye to a sweet, kind man whose smile has brightened almost every morning of my life for two years.

He has, for those two years, apart from the very odd day off, worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week. He has been paid (which is why I'd better not say what kind of shop it was) well below the minimum wage. In that time, he hasn't seen his five-year-old, or his three-year-old, or his wife.

None of this dimmed a smile that was like the sun coming out, a smile that always made me feel that now my day would be better. It was the smile of someone who was happy to have found work, because it looked at first as though he wouldn't, and of someone happy to have been allowed to work those hours, even though they're illegal, and happy to have been paid below the minimum wage, even though that's illegal, because those hours, on below the minimum wage, now mean he can set up a business when he gets back to Gujurat, which is home. It was the smile of someone who adored the children whose photos he showed me, and knew he was giving them a better future.

On Wednesday, in a café in Soho, I almost cried again. I almost cried because I was with an African friend who has just moved to England, who was telling me about his job. He's living in a bedsit, and working as a dustman, and planning to work in an old people's home at evenings and weekends. He told me about the work, and how you had to be careful when you were emptying bins on busy roads, and about the old people who couldn't manage their bins, and about how, when it wasn't his shift, he told his colleagues about the old people who would need help. I almost cried because he was so happy to have this job, and took so much care with it, and was so pleased to be here.

My local shop assistant trained as an accountant. My friend who's now a dustman has a degree in French. Both are among the 34 per cent of migrants in this country who have a post-school qualification, which is nearly 5 per cent more than what Nick Griffin calls "indigenous" Brits. Those educated migrants, according to new research by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, are better paid than migrants in most other countries. They're even (though perhaps not my friends) better paid than most workers born here. This means, according to the authors of the report, they put less strain on the benefit system than their non-immigrant peers.

But this doesn't mean that Baroness Flather, Britain's first woman Asian peer, was wrong when she said on Wednesday that "the minority communities in this country, particularly the Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis, have a very large number of children and the attraction is the large number of benefits that follow the child". She was told by "community leaders" that her comments were "irresponsible", and that she was "out of touch". But it would be strange if Bangladeshis and Pakistanis were the only ethnic groups to ignore the financial incentives of tax credits and benefits. Birth rates are higher among families on benefits than in work. It's possible this has nothing to do with the benefits, but it's likely that it does. If you live in a country legally, and the law of that country says it will pay you to have children, and pay more the more children you have, and pay the rent on your home, which your own country wouldn't dream of doing, it's quite hard to see why you wouldn't.

Immigrants don't come here for the weather. They don't come here for the food, or fashion. They come here because they get more money, either by selling their skilled labour, or by working long hours in low-paid jobs, or by living on benefits, than they think they would get if they didn't. And because they think that a hard life here is less hard than a hard life at home.

It's easy for middle-class people whose work isn't threatened by cut-price labour, and who swear by their (cut-price) Polish cleaners and builders, to tell the non-working working classes that they should take a leaf out of their immigrant neighbours'(often rather well-thumbed) books. Most people, or at least most non-immigrants, don't want to live in bedsits or dormitories, which is what you often have to do to survive in low-wage labour, and most people don't want to have to juggle several jobs. It's also easy for middle-class people who work hard to tell other people to work hard, but long hours in an office, or sitting round the Cabinet table, are not the same as long hours wiping people's bottoms or emptying people's bins.

Some people will keep arguing that immigration is a good thing, and some people will keep arguing that it isn't, but it is, in the end, a bit like arguing about whether you like sunshine or rain. Good or bad, boost or drain, sunshine or rain, it doesn't really matter. In a globalised world, immigration is here to stay.

What we can all agree, as we face an economic future that isn't looking all that rosy, and which seems to threaten lower standards of living for everyone except the very rich, is that it's sometimes good, when you're feeling a bit hard done by, to have people around to remind you – sometimes with a smile so bright that you cry at the thought of missing it – of your still considerable, utterly undeserved, and entirely arbitrary, luck.

Yet another role model from Scandinavia

Name a social problem and the answer, after extensive global studies, nearly always seems to be in Scandinavia. Economy in the doldrums? Look to Sweden. Not enough women in boardrooms? Look to Norway. Everyone getting a bit miserable? Look to Denmark. Not quite enough bestselling novels and TV series about serial killers? Look to all three.

So perhaps it's not surprising that Denmark has just managed to get that thing rarer than an ugly woman on TV, a female prime minister. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who was elected on Thursday, is married to Neil Kinnock's son, which does slightly give the impression that centre-left elites are as cosy as their Tory equivalents. But she has, against what appears to be a global trend, managed to get elected with promises of fewer curbs on immigration, and higher taxes. It's not clear how she's done this, but policy wonks will, no doubt, be rushing to find out. Particularly, when they see what she looks like.

What women want (according to the Tories)

It's almost touching that the Tories have suddenly decided they've got a problem with women. Not in pulling them, obviously, but in getting them to vote for them. It has suddenly hit them that big cuts in the public sector hit women more than men, and that women, unlike some politicians, don't really like being hit.

The answer, according to a leaked memo, is things like a ban on advertising to children, and criminalising forced marriage. Call me frustrated if you like, but I can't see how the youth of the nation, and plans to end medieval practices that ought to be illegal already, can be put in a box marked "carrots for women". Or perhaps not carrots, but cupcakes.





React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

 

Naturism criminalised: Why not being able to bare all is a bummer

Simon Usborne
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried