In the past, if people moved country, it was usually permanent – you “emigrated” for economic reasons to Australia and Canada or from India, Pakistan or the Caribbean; you arrived as a refugee from Eastern Europe or Southern Africa; you “came home” from the remnants of Empire or, as in the case of some of my school friends, you married a British citizen. You “emigrated” and you “settled”.
Today, emigration is less of a once in a lifetime decision. People may go to another country to study or work for a short period of time or to do seasonal work. They may settle for a number of years, maintaining contact with their country of origin and returning home to retire or set up their own businesses. We need to understand these patterns better to understand the underlying impact of migration.
We do have problems though and some of them are exacerbated by large numbers of migrants, especially when they are concentrated in a particular area can be a contributory factor.
We have failed to keep pace with what seems like an insatiable demand for housing.
Do immigrants contribute to this? Yes – but so do lots of others – divorcing couples, single person households, the increasing number of university students who need term time accommodation. Even (whisper it not) the fact that we have managed to have a housing shortage ever since the end of the Second World War, have sold off vast swathes of social housing and are set to sell off more because “the right to own a home” is more important than the right to have a home.
We have failed to provide enough school places or to deal adequately with the complex needs of children who speak a multiplicity of languages, may have had no previous education and may be traumatised by experiences of war, persecution or extreme poverty.
We have failed to maintain and develop our skills base, because it’s cheaper to import skilled workers from other country than to educate and train the existing population.
The NHS is in crisis. Red herring – the NHS is always in crisis.
None of this will change if we leave the EU.
It won’t change because we are addicted to immigration. We are addicted to the cheap, short term fixes that immigration brings and a junkie isn’t going to cut off their supply.
If we vote “Leave”, we will still need people to do the jobs that the British won’t do; fruit and veg. won’t pick themselves. We will still need Polish plumbers and builders to tackle our housing shortage. We will still need Philippino nurses and Indian doctors to keep the NHS running (and yes, I do know that The Philippines and India aren’t in the EU – that’s sort of the point).
We are addicted to immigration and we are part of the problem. We are part of the problem every time we fail to ask questions about the hours that immigrants are expected to work, the conditions they are expected to work under, the accommodation they are expected to live in or why a third of London’s rough sleepers are migrants.
None of this will change if we leave the EU. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars on the European flag, but in ourselves.