I recently watched a BBC documentary (No place to call home) about Britain’s housing crisis, focusing on a suburb of London (Dagenham). It was an insight into the desperate situation many find themselves in because of a shortage of housing, very high rents and a feeling the council / government is unable to help with the basic human need of housing.
Like many people in the film, I always assumed that a council had a social contract to provide the most rudimentary housing to help avoid homelessness. But, the reality is for many councils they are just unable to. They have very little housing stock – demand far outstrips supply. For those in the front line, it is an almost impossible situation.
The other disconcerting thing is the extent to which people were blaming the whole situation on immigrants. This is not an isolated phenomena – it seems to have seeped into the national consciousness – blame immigrants for everything from lack of housing to NHS waiting lists and more.
The tabloid media have played a very strong role (see: media bias in UK), with relentless campaigning about the problems caused by immigrants. It is not helped by politicians, especially of the governing party, tapping into this public sentiment. I was depressed to hear the tone of the recent Conservative party conference.
It is hardly surprising because blaming immigrants is a very effective way to deflect blame from real problems.
If I was going to get angry at the housing crisis. Legal immigrants would not be the target. I would get angry at:
- Government’s austerity of recent years and unwillingness to build social homes.
- Large levels of inequality in society. It is a myth we can’t afford to house people in the UK. The UK is very rich, it is just we are reluctant to tax the wealthy and rich.
- Thatcher’s government for selling off council houses (at discounted rate) in 1980s.
- Before Right to Buy was introduced in 1980, Dagenham council boasted a housing stock of 38,000. Since then they have lost 49 per cent, equating to 18,778 – despite a current housing waiting list of 8,798 people.
- Foreign money flooding into London market pushing up prices.
- Number of empty homes.
In the economic effects of immigration, I tried to paint a balanced picture of the economic effects of immigration. Far from being benefit scroungers, immigrants are net contributors to the fiscal budget. But, I wonder how many people in Britain would believe this. A question never asked – but If we cut immigration levels, who is going to make up for the shortfall for lost tax revenues?
I feel net migration levels will fall before the UK leaves the EU – just because so many immigrants now feel unwelcome and people will avoid Britain (especially with fall in Pound). But, when net migration levels fall, it will do nothing to solve the fundamental economic and social problems.
There are reasonable economic and social arguments for limiting immigration. You can still be a tolerant society without completely open borders.. The problem is when people take out grievances on individuals who are not even responsible for policies. At the moment, I do feel a large degree of empathy for Eastern Europeans who are being unfairly scapegoated and experiencing xenophobia from the media and many people who unfairly blame their problems on net migration from Eastern Europe.
I genuinely feel sad at the change in attitudes within Britain in recent years. We used to have a reputation for openness, lack of racism, but this has changed in recent years.
To me it is one nation, whether people have lived here for 2 months or 20 generations. Everyone is welcome, just as when I go to US or the rest of Europe I would hope to be welcomed rather than blamed for all their countries problems.
Personally, I blame many economic policies of the Conservative Party, but if I met an individual Conservative MP, I wouldn’t express personal ill-feeling. You can hate the policy of austerity without hating the people behind it. Similarly, it is not unreasonable to wish to limit immigration, but it doesn’t mean we have to hate and blame immigrants. Everyone in Britain is descended from an immigrant at some time. If we limit immigration by becoming a meaner, nastier society – where is the gain in that?
The sad state of Britain is reflected in the media angst at the UK’s decision to let in a handful of refugees from the Calais camp. Whatever people say, Britain is a very rich country, the idea we can’t afford or accommodate a few unfortunate refugees, is just not true.
The other thing is that we are not an island unto ourselves. To me we live in one world – we can’t isolate ourselves completely from what is happening in Syria. British action in Iraq is at least partly responsible for what is happening in the Middle East. But, even if it wasn’t directly responsible, we need to remember that in different circumstances, it could be ourselves in a difficult situation.
If we found ourselves as a refugee, how would we want to be treated? Offering compassion to people who find themselves in a difficult situation, enlarges our life and gives a much greater sense of satisfaction that a narrow minded and selfish attitude.