‘Swamped’ by a different culture? I think not

‘Swamped’ by a different culture? I think not

Shortly before Christmas the 2011 Census data was released showing new statistics of the make-up of Britain. The census data revealed that foreign-born residents make up 13% of the population, the Muslim population is now 4.8%, and the white British population is currently at 86%. Since then people have been panicking and screaming ‘there’s brown people everywhere’, ‘this island will sink under the weight of their afro’s!’. Well OK… that may have been only in the comment section of certain papers.

A photo of diverse london high street
London by Alessandro Casagrande

The census also showed that London is now the most multi-cultural city, less people are religious, more people have higher educational qualifications, are in good health, and Britain’s mixed race population has leapt over one million. A legacy of failed multi-culturalism? Broken Britain? I think not.

Why ‘they’ come

There’s this myth I’ve been hearing time and time again, it’s called the ‘True Briton’. The truth is EVERYONE in Britain can trace their family history to immigrants at some point in time. As Barbara Roche, former Labour immigration minister and leader of the Migration Museum Project, puts it, “We are all migrants. If you want to celebrate Britain you have to celebrate migration.” Each wave of migration had different reasons for coming. The Beaker people that came about a thousand years before the Romans were escaping the tribal turmoil of Central Europe, some from the colonies in the 50s and 60s saw Britain as the motherland to which they could contribute to the new national services and many from Ireland during the same period came for work as do many eastern-European’s today.

For many, Britain is seen as a place where if you work hard, you can raise your children and they can achieve anything, even if that hard work comprises of years cleaning or working multiple low paid jobs, or in the public services where the pay is lower than the private sector. Achievement at school is usually linked to family income, so one might expect children from poorer immigrant families to do worse in school. Wrong. Immigrants from China earn less than the national average and are less likely to be in work, but their children far out perform their peers, this is also true for children from Asian families. Immigrants from most countries also spend longer in full-time education than Britons. For first generation migrants, this often does not mean higher wages, but does give a significant boost for their children – and it is them and their success that helps Britain remain one the richest nations on earth.


A scapegoating cartoon
Who ate the nutella?

The movement of labour into and out of the UK is, and always has been, absolutely essential to our economy. 157,000 Poles came to Britain immediately after the Second World War, soon followed by the Italians – all filling essential gaps in our mines and steel mills and brick works. In the 1950s and 1960s workers from the West Indies and South Asia found jobs in electrical engineering, car manufacturing, paper and rubber mills and more, fuelling the post-war economic boom that backed up MacMillan’s claim that “we’d never had it so good”. Since then, IT and finance professionals from the U.S., India, EU and elsewhere have helped drive London’s growth as the financial centre of the world

Many people see our NHS and schools, like a fat man sitting on a tiny chair, they think any minute now it’s going to crack under the pressure. In reality, far from being a burden on our health or education services – migrants are often the very people delivering those services. The NHS has suffered shortages of staff since its birth. This was solved then, as it is now, by ‘importing’ nurses, doctors and care assistants from overseas. By 1968, there were almost 19,000 trainee nurses and midwives born overseas – 35% of whom were from the West Indies and 15% from Ireland. According to MigrationWatch ‘the health and social work sector employs one in seven of all immigrants in the UK.’ In Education too we rely on immigrants. Head teachers say schools have to rely on recruiting staff from abroad, sometimes after just a telephone interview, to fill teacher vacancies.


The economic contribution of migrants is nothing new; Britain has relied on migrants to supply capital to our economy throughout its history. For example, when the Bank of England was founded in 1694 – 10 per cent of its initial capital was put up by 123 French Huguenot merchants who had already transformed Britain’s textile and paper industries.

Britain is importing workers partly because many of them are determined to work hard, contribute to the tax system and set up businesses. People from the USA, Poland, South Africa and Australia came top of the rankings for average weekly hours worked, in 2005/6 – the UK came 19th. Similarly, people born in the USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Uganda also pay the highest average weekly tax and NI contributions. Out of 26 countries of birth; UK born citizens only came 14th in the table of contributions made in 2005/06. So, far from the benefit and oxygen thieves they’re sometimes made out to be.

Richard Webber, visiting professor of geography at King’s College London, notes that:

“until now the discussion about immigration has been about workers rather than entrepreneurs. There has been a tendency to say ‘the countryside is short of people picking vegetables so we need more Romanians’ or ‘we are short of nurses so we need more Nigerians.’ That’s a reasonable debate to have, but the issue of entrepreneurship is different; it’s not about shortages.”

A photo of a Marks and Spencers store
Marks and Spencer – Leeds

Many people suffer from Selective Immigration Amnesia (SIA) and often forget that some of Britain’s greatest entrepreneurs (that actually pay their corporation tax) are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Michael Marks one of the co-founders of Marks & Spencer was born in Slonim, at that time part of the Russian Empire. He emigrated to England and moved to Leeds where a company called Barran was known to employ Jewish refugees and opened the first Penny Bazaar there in 1884. Tesco was founded in 1919 by Jack Cohen from a market stall in London’s East End. He was born in Kent, and is the son of Avram Kohen, a Polish immigrant who worked as a tailor.

Experian, the data analysis company found that people of non-white British origin were also hugely over-represented in: medical practices, dental practices, dispensing chemists and the wholesale of pharmaceutical products.


We can never forget the migrants from the Commonwealth, Ireland and Eastern Europe who gave more than just their labour. In the mid 19th century, more than 900,000 Irish immigrants settled in England and became 30% our armed forces by 1830. Thousands of Polish airmen flew alongside the RAF during World War Two, and it was Polish mathematicians who helped break the enigma code. By December 1944, 5,000 men were enlisted in the West African Air Corps as ground crew and over 166,500 Africans were involved defeating the Japanese. Furthermore, exports of palm oil, nuts, rubber and food were produced by mainly British-owned companies, who saw vast profits, at the expenses of badly housed and underfed African Labour.

The BNP in the introduction section of their website writes:
“What would our War Heroes think if they could see Britain today? They fought to keep this country British. They fought to keep our nation free, sovereign and independent. They did not fight for multiculturalism, political correctness, or to see our country flooded with foreigners and our own people made into second-class citizens.”
Yet according to military historian Jahan Mahmood The British Second Corps was on its last leg in the First Battle of Ypres; there were no trained British units to intervene and the only army available to Britain was the British Indian army. India promptly sent 140,000 Indians to help. The Indian Army expanded to a 1.2 million-man force, and by the end of the war, Muslims constituted a third of the overall army. Similarly, during the Second World War, 2.5 million south Asian soldiers participated, including 700,000 Muslims and 120,000 Gurkhas. The financial contribution is estimated to be £1.3 billion and the human cost over 80,000 men. The British public were recently appalled at the thought that the Gurka’s would be denied a chance to settle here during the previous administration. And still today, there are men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan who’s parents came here as immigrants.

Stopping migration altogether would be disastrous for our country and economy. Britain as a whole is richer, not only economically – but also in terms of our culture, our literature , our music, and our athletes like Jessica Ennis or Mo Farah. Does immigration water down British culture? Is there a need for immigration? Is there such thing as a ‘True Briton’? The short answer is no, yes and yes. The 2011 Census showed that Britain is changing, and in most respects, for the better.

By Natasha Holder

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