Unfortunately immigration is usually discussed from a negative perspective, because it's a political hot potato. Especially if an unscrupulous government want a scapegoat for their own failures and a common enemy to unite a disgruntled population. Divide and rule, as long as those in need are fighting each other, those responsible for managing and administering the economy have free rein to do as they wish.
Obviously, an influx of new people into any community will be a drain on services that were designed to cope with several million less. This isn't the fault of the immigrants or the ageing population, the fault lies in the failure of successive governments to invest in line with the changing demographic. If the UK were a commercial business it would not cut back as demand grew, it would expand in line with it's customers needs. It would be like Ronald McDonald saying too many people are eating burgers, so lets shut down loads of branches, cut back on staff and make the service so shit, it will drive all the customers away.
As for there being a surge in the population. I'm not convinced there has been, and if there has, what does it matter anyway? People come and go as they always have and as nice as our neighbours might be, we cannot hang onto them forever. They might move, or we might, the whole neighbour thing is pretty much the luck of the draw and there is nothing we can do about it. And even if we could, do we really want to be the kind of people who fear outsiders and strangers?
Since time began, man has had the urge to travel, and these days it's a lot easier, for everyone. No society or community is static, people no longer spend their entire lives in one small town. Kids grow up and move on, sometimes to the other side of the world, older people are upping sticks and buying a place in the sun. Without immigrants, I am not really sure how communities could continue to run efficiently when the younger generations move on. What exactly are the anti immigration lobby aiming for? Do they simply want to shut Britain's doors because the country's full up and we're all doing nicely ta very much. Are they trying to draw a line under evolution, stop the world, so we an all disembark in the England of Dad's Army?
How can the UK possibly have a fixed number for the amount of immigrants entering the UK? And how can a number be reasonably fixed at a time of humanitarian crisis? The number of people coming into (and going out of) the UK will vary from year to year. As compassionate human beings we have to respond to the circumstances that exist at any given time and there should be no question that we give refuge to those in need.
As a child of immigrant parents, my dad was Scottish, my mum Irish, it was only as I got older that I began to appreciate just how brave and go getting they were. And I feel much the same with regard to all immigrants, they are a constant reminder that this is a land of opportunity. My own home town, devastated by the effects of austerity, continues to tick over mostly because of all those immigrants who have taken a chance on starting up new businesses have the drive, ambition and belief that seems to have been lost among the indigenous population. They haven't come to the UK, because they want to sponge off the Welfare State, they have come here because GB still has the reputation of being one of the most advanced civilised nations on the globe. We were once pioneers, and those who join us believe we still can be.
Migrant workers are a good thing, they have existed since the beginning of time. Some might say it is in our genes to follow the work and during times of growth outside help is essential, see Egypt circa 1200bc or the influx of Irish into the UK in the 1960's. There is a good argument to be made that economic migrants lower wages by working for less, but the lowering of the wages lies solely with the employers. Since the Tories and Tony Blair indoctrinated everyone with the idea that bosses are nice people and we don't need Unions anymore, they can pretty much treat their employees as they choose, and they choose to get as much work for the least amount of pay as they can. When they sing about those Satanic mills, it is with fond memories.
Those who want to restrict freedom of movement, send shivers down my spine. The first thing that comes to mind is the Berlin Wall and, god forbid, Donald Trump's Mexican Wall. Where does it begin, and [shudders] where does it end? If we limit the number of new citizens coming into the UK, will other countries reciprocate and turn our kids away? Should UK citizens have priority in the job market, even if they are not necessarily the best person for the job?
But let's turn to the most common arguments against immigration?
I've got nowhere to live
My child can't get a place in the local school
I had to wait 10 hours in A&E
The answer to all of the above: lack of investment in vital public services by successive governments, this one especially. Somehow they have managed to win two elections pitching austerity is good and let's hear it for the wealth creators. (same pitch as Liz Kendall and plotters). Investing in people and communities is just plain crazy, yeh? or, it can only be done when their pals, the wealth creators feel benevolent enough to pay some taxes. No obligation of course, only if they feel like it.
Let's smash this 'Austerity is Right' argument back on it's heels. It is not right, it is pointless, and worse, it is cruel and inhumane. To put it into perspective. at a time when this country was virtually on its knees, and the last time we had food banks, was just after the second World War. Yet, out of the devastation, the Clement Attlee government built the Welfare State and the NHS. In the 21st century and as the 6th richest nation in the world, the above 3 complaints should shame every right wing politician especially those Labour politicians who continue to believe that austerity is right.
It is not the fault of immigrants, or the sick and disabled, it is the failure of government and local authorities to provide the facilities needed for a growing population. A 'New Deal' funds itself. New homes, schools and hospitals create new jobs, which creates spending power, which boosts new business. If a system is collapsing because too many people are making demands on it, the answer isn't to cut down on the people, it is to expand and improve the system!
I love our multicultural society because I have always taken great pleasure in meeting people from far off lands, for me, it is the next best thing to visiting the place myself. As a small child in the early 1960's I was fortunate to grow up in a community where all my playmates came from a huge variety of ethnic backgrounds. We were all children of immigrants who worked in the huge hospital opposite our row of houses. From those who worked in the kitchens, to the doctors and nurses, there were no class barriers either. My best pals were a little Indian girl called Konni and a little German boy called Heina - I learned at a very early age that if I wanted to make friends with someone 'wanna make some mud pies' was pretty universal.
My own experience of a mixed, inter racial childhood was a positive one, and one that I can say has enriched my life. I've never had that fear of foreigners that I saw in others as I got older. Those parents who worry that their children's education will suffer because of any influx of immigrant children into local schools, should set their fears aside. Firstly, the parents of these immigrant children are made of pretty stern stuff. Some have crossed oceans to get here. They know and understand the benefit of a good education and they will actively push their children towards high achievement. Which makes them pretty good friends for our wayward kids to pal up with.
Secondly, they offer our kids a window into a whole new world that neither parents or teachers could ever hope to achieve. Small children don't have prejudices, all the little people around them are their friends and always will be. And if they are fortunate to grow up untainted by the world around them, they will be pacifists. They will understand and respect other cultures and traditions rather than fear them. Children who grow up in a multicultural environment will not go into any negotiations from a nationalistic stance. There is hope for the future.
Immigrants are not a threat to our society, they are a lifeline. They are working their socks off to build a better life for themselves and their children. They want what we want, and they are, arguably, more determined to get it. They still see the potential GB has, the kudos of a British education and a NHS background. Even in the toughest times, they have optimism and vision, where we old cynics see a landscape of despair, they see opportunity and hope.
The housing crisis, the lack of good school places and the appalling staff and bed shortages in our hospitals, predate the current refugee crisis. They are the result of trying to run public services on a shoestring. Those with charge of the public purse have not used our taxes and national insurance to maintain and upkeep the National Health service, they have cut vital services to the bone and spent the money elsewhere. Limiting the number of people who come into the UK will make no difference to the lives of UK citizens. As long as those who manage the economy squeeze vital services to breaking point, there will always be shortages and it is the general public (including the immigrants) who will suffer. None of us are getting the services we pay for.
The majority of people with immigration fears are not racist, they have been placed in a position where it feels as though they are competing with their neighbours for homes, jobs and school places, because lack of investment means there is not enough to go round. Sadly, using an ethnic minority to carry all the blame for society's ills, is a political tool that goes back to the beginning of time. It was cheap and devious in biblical days, and it is cheap and devious now.
Our neighbours are not our enemies. The problems we have lie solely with
mismanagement by those at the top. Those communities hit hardest by the double dip recessions and austerity, have far greater problems than new people coming to their areas. They have been run down by decades of under investment and forward planning. Sure Start gave them a glimmer of hope for a while, but the Tories swiftly put an end to that.
As for these small groups of new people, we should welcome them into our midst. I remember as an 11 year old asking my history teacher what England, or more specifically Englanders would have been like if it had never been invaded. She then painted an image of blond haired, blue eyed 'angels' from Angeland that I actually found quite charming - even though I didn't fit the Aryan criteria myself. I didn't understand the sinister connotations and I hadn't seen Children of the Damned, it was a Catholic girls school, what did I know.
I think any kind of legislation to preserve a society in it's original form is a tad Amish. Those fighting against immigration are actually fighting against change, they cannot accept that the world around them is doing as it always has done, it is evolving. The whole idea of gates, walls and stricter border controls takes us back to medieval times. In fact walls have got a terrible history altogether (who can think of a good one?), they are symbols of tyranny and restrictions on freedom of movement are the foundations on which they are built. Society does not become a better place by forming elite groups and excluding people.
I try to make a point each day, of chatting to and giving warm smiles, to the newcomers I encounter. I want them and their children to feel welcome and I want them to know that the far right extremists do not represent the majority of us. In the words of Maya Angelou, people will forget what you said, and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.