The face of Britain is changing. In fact, it has been under construction for a long time. The problem is, we haven’t really been paying attention to the fact that it might look very different to how we might expect – and now, with the Calais migrant crisis in full swing, it’s been illuminated by a torch.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond received a lot of backlash for calling people fleeing from socially and politically wrought places like Libya ‘marauding migrants’ this week, those people who continue to cross the open grave of the Mediterranean in boats, searching for a new life. Forgotten is the speech David Cameron made at Tripoli’s Martyrs Square in August 2011, after Libya’s leader Colonel Gaddafi was overthrown, where he told the Libyan people that ‘you have no greater friend than the United Kingdom… We will stand with you every step of the way.’ In place of that, we are warned that if this ‘swarm’ of people makes it to our shores, they will ‘change the living standards’ of our country.
What irony that Hammond should bring up living standards, when it’s his party that has so determinedly driven them down. The harsh austerity regime that the Tories put in place included the reduction of welfare benefits by £12 billion, while local government authorities have had their budgets chopped by £18 billion since 2010. This toxic combination attacks vulnerable people on both fronts: by directly taking away the money which supports them, and by crippling the areas in which they live.
Today, in an effort to bar EU migrants from claiming benefits, the government is considering whether to disadvantage our own young people – those born and bred within the safe confines of the United Kingdom – in order to keep others out. Those who would be affected include 50,000 under-22s who are in work and receiving tax credits, most of whom have children. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.
The government’s attitude towards immigration is so frustrating precisely because it is so wrong-headed. There is endless proof that the long-term benefit of migrants and asylum seekers are manifold – Ugandan refugees, for instance, have created approximately 30,000 jobs in the Leicester since 1972. Last year the Treasury’s independent advisers said that immigration is beneficial to the economy as new arrivals are most likely to be of working age – and even the chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility, Robert Chote, stated that growing immigration to the UK “does tend to produce a more beneficial picture” for the economy.
Britain needs to face the consequences of its past choices. Its murky past in colonialism has contributed to the unrest across Africa which drives migrants towards our shores. Migration flow between 2002-06 was at its trough. Why? Because of decreased levels of regional conflict. The best way to prevent migration is to invest in the stability of countries like Libya, rather than ignoring our history.
The Tory government must come to terms with the fact that their social and political culture will be altered – for the better – by incoming migrants who are owed a place of sanctuary by Britain. I, for one, welcome that.
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