Immigration, Lies and Politics
Despite the impression given by scaremongers that the UK is being ‘swamped’ by immigrants, in Yorkshire and Humber net Immigration is on the decrease.
Despite these statistical trends, in the last European elections, Yorkshire and Humber voted in 3 UKIP MEPs. In all likelihood the party is likely to use similar scare tactics to try and win Northern seats in the 2015 general elections.
Ironically at a time when the North is gearing up for devolution in an attempt to bridge the North-South divide –a healthy relationship with the EU is critical to the wellbeing of the region’s economy. Almost £7 billion of Yorkshire’s annual exports go to the EU and almost 360,000 jobs depend on trade with our European partners.
Unfortunately none of the mainstream political parties are prepared to challenge the deficit narrative on the EU despite clear evidence of its benefits. The tendency to caricature the issue has been unhelpful because it does not take into account the different impact of immigration on different localities.
For instance, in a recent research that I did in North Yorkshire as the Chair of the Racial Justice in North Yorkshire project, it was very clear that for the region’s businesses – the small bed and breakfasts and hotels; the agricultural farms; and the processing plants – EU migrants are vital to the sectors’ survival. Without the ready availability of a pool of seasonal migrant workers, their businesses would not be viable.
Similarly with an ageing population in North Yorkshire, the care homes could not operate without migrant care workers to look after the old, infirm and dying – ironically the very group that is most resistant to migration.
Bradford on the other hand has a completely different demographics – it will have the largest ethnic minority youth population in Europe by 2030. The intra-community dynamics of migration plays itself out differently in a diverse place like Bradford.
The majority of ethnic minority communities live in inner-city areas where some of the neighbourhoods are in the bottom 5% of Super Output Areas. The deprived areas have one of the highest adult and child mortality rates in the country and rickets has made a come back in parts of the district. In constituencies like Bradford West and Bradford East, unemployment is running as high as 40%.
These are the very areas that many of the EU migrants are moving into because housing is cheap. A large number of the immigrants from the Roma community are also choosing to settle in Bradford because of its large Asian population – they believe that if they are less visible, they will be safer from discrimination and racism.
These migrants need hospitals, GP services, and schools for their children. Just over 3000 children from the EU enrolled in the local schools this year and although the official figures put the number of Roma students at 1280, the estimates are that the figure is likely to be nearer 2000.
It is widely acknowledged that the JSA sanction rates for migrants and refugees in Bradford are significantly high and this is hardly surprising given the lack of discrete support to help them negotiate their way around the benefits maze. This however has had an impact on the authority’s ability to recoup the pupil premium, which schools need to target teaching resources and offer free school meals to children in need. It is believed that Bradford is losing £650,000 in pupil premium payments, which in turn has an impact on the life-chances of young children.
So Bradford is a perfect example of one of those places where the government would say that migration has placed a disproportionate burden on the local authority and stretched local services. We may not have got things completely right in Bradford but there is a lot to commend the present Council leadership for trying to create a positive environment and building on the contribution of immigrants as a City of Sanctuary.
However Bradford would have been in a better position to meet the needs of its migrant communities were it not for the unfair financial settlement from central government. Bradford will have to make £40 million in cuts over the next two years due to an 8.1% reduction as part of the government’s austerity measure. Bradford is not alone – many Northern Labour strongholds have been targeted for disproportionate cuts while affluent Tory shires in the South have received a net increase in funding. For instance residents in George Osborne’s Tatton constituency in East Cheshire received a £2.6 million increase. So the failure of the Coalition government to give areas like Bradford a fair share of state finances and to blame immigrants for the strain on public services, is an exercise in political sophistry.
Clearly as we approach the next general elections both UKIP and the Coalition government will undoubtedly whip up anti-EU and anti- immigrant sentiments as part of their electoral strategy. While it may deliver short-term electoral gains, the increased community tensions and the opening up of a political space to racism and xenophobia will undoubtedly leave a devastating long-term legacy in its wake.