Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford? Who left them in charge of Britain's social policy? Their combined repertoire of stern looks was ideally suited to acting as Sir Alan's advisers in The Apprentice, but surely the welfare system and immigration would benefit from more expert input? Apparently not, because almost exactly a year after Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits, the gruesome twosome have returned with another over-simplified take on a complex issue. Nick and Margaret: Too Many Immigrants?, a two-part series and "social experiment" began on BBC1 last night.
Is immigration "a drain", they wanted to know, or is it "a gain"? To help us choose between these two (and only) options, a series of awkward encounters had been arranged between immigrants making a life in the UK and Brits. For the purposes of this programme, a "Brit" was defined as a white Londoner with strong anti-immigration views.
Builder Jamie and benefits claimant Michael were both frustrated by what they saw as immigrants stealing the employment and housing opportunities that were their birthright. "It's like a football match at home and the away team's come in with a totally fantastic, amazing player," said Michael, the more diffident of the two. "If I can't win at home, where am I gonna win?"
Retired court clerk John had objections to immigration that were largely based on the NHS care his mother had received. Migrant workers, he said, had a fundamentally different approach to care and were "brusque". He was introduced to a care worker from the Philippines who was anything but; in fact, all of the immigrants in the programme were hard-working and driven, as people willing to uproot themselves for a new life tend to be – yet John remained unconvinced.
To be fair to John, the programme hadn't presented him or us with much statistical evidence to counter his point of view; it was just one person's set of anecdotal experiences versus another's. Nor was there any exploration of a really interesting question: why have fears about immigration reached such fever pitch, when the research suggests its actual impact is mostly neutral?
Strangely, it was the Brits with the flimsiest argument to support their grievance who came across as most sympathetic. Ted and Margaret from Ilford in Essex don't fear for their jobs or increasing class sizes in schools: they just don't like living around so many Asians. It's got to the point where the mere sight of a yam in the corner shop is enough to make Ted deeply uncomfortable.
Ted, I hear you. I too know how it feels to watch the place you called home change beyond all recognition. Only in my case the scapegoats of choice are hipster vegans, not halal meat vendors. Our communities are changing at a breakneck speed and anyone unable or unwilling to keep up will be left behind. But that's not immigration, is it, Ted? That's free-market economics.
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