David Cameron has declared that all of Britain is scared about rising immigration numbers. He’s declared that most immigrants move to the UK through sham marriages. He’s argued that immigration hasn’t been about assimilation, but “ghettoisation”. He’s argued that refusing to work in an unskilled job for really poor wages and no right to unionise is riding the welfare state and is caused by immigrants taking on those positions instead. So he’s decided to tell us that he’s stopping immigration and thus “ending the option of living a life on the dole when a life in work is possible” – all of this from a man who has never had to do either.
David Cameron clearly has it all wrong. He has it wrong because he does not understand how the economy works and what it means to be poor and on the dole. He has it wrong if he really thinks that all Britain is scared about is immigration. And he clearly has it wrong about assimilation.
1. The Economy & Poverty
Immigrants often take on the worst jobs in Britain. They work as cleaning staff. They work as hotel concierges. They work as security guards. They work in a wide variety of industries, at the bottom rung of organisations. They are paid very poor wages, often minimal wage (or less), fired if they unionise, and are usually overqualified for those jobs. Would someone truly CHOOSE this kind of work, Cameron?
I know a woman who works illegally for a Indian family as a maid. She came on a holiday visa, and hasn’t left the country. Everything she earns, she sends back home to her children in India. From the money she earns (a mere £20/day), her children gain a decent education. She misses them terribly, hates the job, and finds the UK horrifically cold. She doesn’t want to be here, but she’s given up a few years of her life in order to make sure her children never have to.
The problem within this ridiculous argument is simple: it’s not immigrants that needs to change, but the fact that such low wages are allowed to exist. That people are treated SO poorly by working those jobs that they are disinclined to do the work if they can avoid it. Decreasing welfare will only WORSEN the situation, not resolve it.
2. Jobs, Justice and Change – NOT Xenophobia
The activists of Hope not Hate could probably teach Cameron a thing or two about his own constituents if he truly believes that the growth in the BNP and other ‘extremist’ groups is being fuelled by immigration. It is true that immigration has become the scapegoat, but let’s not forget who put it there. If Michael Howard’s electoral campaign was anything to go by – wasn’t it the Tories in the first place?
Immigration has been used to disguise much deeper rooted systemic problems – the right to a fair income and working conditions, the end of inequality between rich and poor, and an economy for the people (not for itself). All of these have given rise to high unemployment and reduced wages. Immigrants are an easy excuse because they are willing to take on poor jobs just to stay in the country. And why do they want to stay? Because globalisation means that we own the assets of their country anyway and are being paid millions in debt returns – all of these keeping our economy afloat and liquidity in the financial market.
So if jobs were an incentive to work, perhaps people would actually be willing to take them up, shooting this whole argument straight in the foot.
3. What’s “British” anyway? Colonialism?
Cameron speaks of “integration” as a platitude to “multiculturalism”, arguing that:
Real communities are bound by common experiences … forged by friendship and conversation … knitted together by all the rituals of the neighbourhood, from the school run to the chat down the pub. And these bonds can take time. So real integration takes time.
Any student of history or sociology should know this simple fact: integration does NOT work. When Australia implemented in the the 1950s/60s to ensure that any immigrants accept the “Australian way of doing things,” there was an increase in emigration. Why? Because the beauty of living in a society mixed full of people from around the world is the diversity. Friendship doesn’t come from similarities of action, but from the shared acts of being. You don’t need to go to a pub do a “neighbourly ritual” to have British-born friends. Once again, Cameron’s lack of experience as an immigrant is clear.
And then there’s that awkward question – what does it mean to be British anyway? The UK’s always been a hub of immigrants pouring in and out of the country. That’s always been the charm of the Isles, and will remain so. If Cameron had any knowledge of the origin of the words and numbers he used in his speech, he wouldn’t be worrying about dysfunctional communities. This isn’t an episode of Neighbours.
If Cameron really wants the Big Society utopia he’s trying to design in his speech, he should stop blaming the people who would make it up and start setting regulations to prevent them from being abused, mistreated and cheated. This conversation is clearing about Labour Rights, not Immigration.