openDemocracyUK

Immigration isn't responsible for falling living standards

The Casey report is a decoy. We shouldn't draw disingenuous links between falling living standards and fear of immigration.

Tess Finch-Lees
12 December 2016
 Neil Moralee. Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Photo: Neil Moralee. Flickr. Some rights reserved.“The British people have spoken, so f**k off back home”. Those were the words used by a thug who recently racially abused a Sikh woman where I live. The fact that the woman was British and home is around the corner was a mere fact that didn’t get in the way of an unbridled act of hatred.

A UN report lambasted the EU referendum campaign for using divisive, anti-immigrant rhetoric. It criticised politicians for entrenching prejudices and emboldening individuals to carry out acts of intimidation towards minority communities. UKIP’s immigrant invasion poster still haunts my 8 year old who lives in fear of deportation.

Rather than trying to tame the monster they helped spawn by invoking anti-immigration rhetoric in the EU referendum, the Tories, not to be out flanked by UKIP, are feeding it. The constant drip feed of dog whistling, whether it’s Amber Rudd’s lists or Theresa May’s “Christmas is under threat”, every utterance evokes a wave of nausea. Every attack unpicks another seam in the increasingly fragile fabric that binds our communities together.

We’ve been here before. Shortly after 7/7 I was giving a lecture when a participant arrived late. He had been jumped on by a gang of “skin heads” who shouted “Go home p*ki” while beating him up. He was a cockney atheist bus driver, albeit with a deep tan.

Having worked at the frontline of race relations for 20 years, I see the Casey report on integration for the dead cat that it is. Another ennobled government tsar parachuted in to confirm that Muslims, not austerity or Brexit, are to blame for Britain’s woes. Islam is the political scapegoat of choice, which is good news for blacks, dogs and Irish.

Politicians have long since employed the dead cat strategy. In a desperate attempt to divert attention away from the fact that the Iraq invasion made Britain (and the world) less safe, Tony Blair found an easy target in Islam. Scaremongering reports were commissioned confirming that Muslims, a) don’t integrate, b) don’t speak the language and 3) are therefore, all potential jihadists. The solution? A Britishness test and English classes. Ed Miliband also called for language tests, even though the 2011 census showed that only 0.3% of the total population didn’t speak any English.

The only good thing to emerge from Brexit is evidence that integration has been a success in Britain. The areas with the highest level of immigration voted predominately to Remain, because close contact with “foreigners” expunges fears of “otherness”. Instead, they see real people making valuable contributions to their community, without whom GP surgeries and schools would have to close. People who pay their taxes, while esurient corporate bosses pay themselves 140 times more than their shop floor workers and legally avoid tax.

It’s no accident, I believe, that the Casey report coincided with Bank of England boss, Mark Carney’s lecture this week. He warned that globalisation is associated with low wages, insecure employment, stateless corporations and “staggering wealth inequalities”. He cautioned that, unless wealth is distributed more fairly, those left behind will reject open markets altogether.

It’s these left behind people, struggling in austerity Britain, that predominately voted to Leave and, according to the IFS, are also the people likely to pay the lion’s share of the predicted £50bn Brexit bill. The report describes this as a lost decade with living standards the worst since the 1920s, which is a “dreadful and extraordinary” situation.

Britain is at breaking point alright, but it’s not because of immigrants. This is a mess entirely of the Tories’ making. Brexit is the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on the British people. It was predicated on the lie that the NHS would get £350m a week more and put immigrants in the frame (literally) for hardships generated by years of austerity and under investment. David Cameron gambled this country’s economic stability and our children’s future in return for his 5 minutes of power. In so doing, providing the far right a platform to peddle prejudice and fear.

The trouble with going down UKIP’s rat infested alley is that it leads to economic Armageddon. Immigrants didn’t cause the global financial crash but our economic recovery is dependent on them.  A recent study by the OBR showed net migration added 0.6% to the output of the economy and claimed that, “without continuing high levels of net migration, even deeper spending cuts and higher taxes would be needed”. Diane Abbott is right not to dance to UKIP’s tune. Labour must communicate the social and economic benefits of immigration and not be diverted by Tory dead cats.

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