A Banker, a Teacher and an Immigrant are sitting at a table on which sits a plate with ten biscuits on it. While the Teacher and Immigrant are deep in conversation, the Banker stuffs nine of the biscuits into his mouth and pockets. He then leans over and whispers into the ear of the Teacher:
“Watch out. That Immigrant is after your biscuit”
This joke summarises the unfolding war on immigrants, disabled people, those who cannot find jobs, people who are too sick to work. The war has been declared by a government which is busy transferring wealth from the bottom to the top of society at an unprecedented rate. It is the age old divide and conquer principle – and the best bit is: they’ve convinced many, on all sides of the political spectrum that we do in fact have an issue with immigration. Newsflash: We don’t.
Hyping Up the Issue
Net migration to the UK fell by a quarter last year from 242,000 to 183,000. This was largely caused in a fall in the number of overseas students choosing to study in the UK (the first in 16 years), and a rise in the number of Britons emigrating (108,000 to 127,000).
However, Immigration is once again and issue for the British people, according to politicians and the mainstream media.
It is no surprise that ‘the British people’ believe immigration to be an issue when so many myths, mistruths and outright lies are promulgated by politicians in pursuit of their votes, or media outlets in pursuit of their custom.
People come to Britain for all sorts of reasons; to take up a place at University, as a result of landing a job, to seek work and better life chances, or to live with a British spouse or family member. People may stay here for a few months, a few years or permanently.
Excluding visitor (tourist) and transit visas, most entry clearance visas are issued under the Points Based System (PBS) for work. The system breaks up labour groups into ranked Tiers of skills from Tier 1 is (highly skilled), down to Tier 5 (temporary/unskilled workers).
The numbers of entry clearance visas issued for the purposes of work, study (excluding student visitors) and family reasons have all continued to fall, falling 4 per cent, 26 per cent and 15 per cent respectively for the year ending September 2012 (to 145,604, 210,921, and 42,213).
This accounts for the vast majority of the UK’s immigrant population.
There is also another category of immigrant: the asylum seeker. An asylum seeker is a person who arrives in the UK as a refugee that has fled their country, and cannot return for fear of real persecution. In such cases the person makes an asylum application.
Allegations of ‘Benefit Tourism’ – Busting the Myths
The above picture has appeared across social media, appearing several times on my social news feeds in recent weeks. It is generally accompanied by some sort of personal statement like ‘I’m not racist but…’, or ‘We’ve got to DO SOMETHING about this’, and so on.
There has been almost non-stop chatter about ‘Benefit Tourism’ of late by the Daily Mail, Iain Duncan Smith (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions), The Sun, or Prime Minster David Cameron himself. And this week, Jeremy Hunt joined in on Health.
Whether it’s their newspaper, their Facebook newsfeed or their political leadership, people cannot move for people telling them that immigration is an issue.
It could be argued that this creates, rather than reflects a pervasive attitude which says that not only are our poor people lazy scroungers, but now other nation’s lazy scrounging poor are on their way, begging bowls at the ready. An almost unavoidable image has been created of a tsunami of immigrants crashing over our social services, fleeing on an outward tide leaving devastation in its wake.
This is just manifestly not the case. Let’s bust some myths:
“We’re the Number 1 Destination for Asylum Seekers!”
Asylum claims in the UK are actually below the EU average, by several degrees.
“We’re a Soft Touch, No one else Accepts This Many Immigrants!”
“They’re All Over Here for the Benefits!”
According to the DWPs own figures, despite being 9% of the UK population, immigrants make up just 6.4% of the 5.5 million people claiming working age benefits in the UK. Therefore the immigrant community is under represented in the field of benefit claims.
“Immigrants are jumping the Queue for Council Housing!”
As for nicking the council houses, this is just barmy. A 2009 study, amidst the Labour government’s announcements of a crackdown on immigrant access to social housing, proved just this.
The EHRC study found that of newly arrived migrants between 2003 and 2009, including those from Poland and other eastern European countries, more than 60% were living in privately rented accommodation, 18% were owner-occupiers, and only 11% had been allocated social housing homes. In terms of the overall proportion of new lettings, out of 170,000 new council or housing association tenants in 2006/07 in England fewer than 5% went to foreign nationals and less than 1% went to east Europeans.
The foreigners are not jumping the queue. Most of them are not even in the queue.
One reason for the widespread misconception that they are, is that the vast majority (90%) of housing allocated to immigrants in the private rented sector tends to be former council homes which have been sold off in ‘hard to let’ and run down areas. Their local neighbours may simply assume these properties are still social housing and the immigrants have been granted it.
The Reality of Social Security Entitlement for Immigrants
The major myths busted, we can now look at the reality of social security entitlement for people seeking to relocate to the UK.
The majority of immigrants to the UK seeking to claim benefits must go through a Habitual Residency Test.
People seeking Asylum in the UK are forbidden to work while their application is being assessed. It is illegal for them to seek work, no matter how long the claim takes to process. Therefore, unless someone has fled their country with enough cash to live without an income for a significant period of time, they will be forced to rely on hand-outs.
If the applicant is classed as destitute (having no accommodation or financial means of finding any without getting a job) they can apply for accommodation in dispersal zones across the UK. There is no such accommodation available in London, and it is dispensed by the UK Border Agency (UKBA).
Asylum Seekers are not eligible to claim any of the following benefits:
- Income Support
- Income-based Job Seekers Allowance
- Housing Benefit
- Council Tax Benefit
- Social Fund
- Disability Living Allowance
- Attendance Allowance
- Invalid Care Allowance
- Severe Disablement Allowance
- Non-contributory incapacity benefit
- Working Families’ Tax Credit
- Disabled Person’s Tax Credit
- Child Benefit
A single person aged between 16 and 18, gets just £39.80 per week, falling to £36.62 on their 19th birthday. A couple in a marriage of Civil Partnership receives just £72.52 shared between them. A lone parent is eligible for £43.94 each week.
This compares to a basic state pension (without any personal contributions) of £107.45 per week, or up to £111.45 per week Job Seekers Allowance. UK Nationals would also be able to access the other benefits outlined above, which are not accessible by Asylum seekers.
When one considers how hard it is for people to make do on these sums, as the cost of living rises, it is clear that entitlements for asylum seekers are a) not anywhere near those of UK nationals and b) not significant enough to suggest a life of indulgence and excess by claimants.
In an effort to appease the Tory right, and quell the rise of proto fascists UKIP, Cameron has gone on the offensive. He has himself made the claim that his attacks on the ‘something for nothing culture’ must apply to immigrants as well as citizens. In short, this is just another attempt at curtailing civil liberties and the welfare state. Here are the key measures:
From next year EU immigrants will lose their entitlement to Job Seekers Allowance after six months unemployment. This might be a good or a bad idea, but either way it will have very little impact. According to the DWPs own figures, just 6.6% of UK immigrants last year were unemployed within 6 months of receiving their National Insurance number. This compares to 16.6% in British nationals. He claims to be taking on ‘Health Tourism’ by requiring non EU nationals to demonstrate they have health insurance in order to access health services. Dr Kailaish Chand of the British Medical Association acknowledges that the unexpected rise in immigration in the mid 2000’s did place the NHS under additional stress, yet also states that: “The rapid rate of immigration is a problem because it was not planned or expected. The resources were not in place. Immigration has caused problems for the health service but with better planning and control it could easily have been avoided.” He goes on. “The NHS is supported by hundreds of thousands immigrant doctors and workers. If you removed them tomorrow the NHS would collapse. They bring a great deal of expertise and the country has not had to pay for their training.”
Nevertheless, the attacks continue, with Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt announcing a new charge for all immigrants of £200 a year to use the NHS. This will apply to students, spouses of British citizens, people who have come here to work.
The government has also placed a cap on non-EEA (European Economic Area) workers of 21,700 a year.
Rules have been tightened on education providers’ ability to provide visas for their students, with a number of colleges being stripped of this function. In one such debacle, London’s Metropolitan University had its license revoked, meaning its 2,700 foreign students had just 60 days to leave the country or apply to another institution, in the middle of their studies. The changes are also estimated to cost the UK £2.4bn in the next decade in lost tuition fees.
A UK citizen now has to earn more than £18,600 a year to gain permission to bring a foreign spouse into the country. This is considerably higher than the average annual wage of a waiter (£12,177), a hairdresser (£12,219), a sales assistant (£13,449) or even a fishmonger (15,453). Originally, soldiers were exempted from this legislation, but recent changes mean the armed forces are also impacted by this rule. Given the starting wage for a solider falls below this figure, what of solider spouses?
In essence, Cameron is contributing the myths which pit dirt poor UK citizens against dirt poor newcomers whilst achieving a negligible real world result at the very best. It is a political stunt designed to appeal to the fears and prejudices of people already being exploited by UKIP. Worse, Labour have joined in just to make sure no one thinks they’ve got an enlightened view on immigration either.
This is yet another example of a politics of envy, fear and suspicion and is entirely consistent with the kind of ‘look over your shoulder’ culture that this Coalition government are creating in the UK. We may very well need to have a conversation about how we manage our population, what kind of welcome we give newcomers, how we divide resources equitably and justly. But this is not that conversation.
This conversation is to divert our attention from the true cause of our woes – an economic and political system rigged in favour of fraction of the world’s population, at the expense of everyone else. It is not a problem of one party, or even one country – it’s the system, stupid.
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