Mythbusters #2 They think the streets are paved with gold!
This week we examine the myth that the UK’s prosperity is fundamentally and entirely down to hard-working, indigenous white, middle-class great Britons. The reality is the influx of immigration to this country helped propel it to become one the top 10 largest economies in the world. Immigrants have often been unfairly associated with stories of welfare, worklessness and ideas that ‘they’ think British streets are paved with gold. They are rarely acknowledged both for their sacrifice and economic contribution to the UK.
Black and Asian troops played an instrumental role in the two world wars; over 166,500 Africans were involved in helping to defeat the Japanese. The British colonies in the West Indies were under direct threat by those sneaky German submarines, whilst 300 or so West Indians served as aircrew, and 40,000 West Indians joined the American efforts.
Many of these soldiers stayed in Britain; and believe it or not it wasn’t to enjoy the weather, they saw Britain as the motherland and Britain was in urgent need of a labour force to rebuild its post-war economy and for the expanding services of the post-war state, most notably the National Health Service and the London Underground. Despite this great contribution to Britain, post-war politicians remained uneasy to the ethic minority presence and in 1955, Winston Churchill proposed the electoral slogan ‘Keep England White’. This political rhetoric continued as Enoch Powell tied the economic and social problems of post-war Britain to the presence of ‘aliens’, and made his infamous ‘rivers of blood speech’. Although British society evolved greatly and went a long way to combat prejudice and racism, Margret Thatcher, in April 1978 said that the public were ‘really afraid that this country might be swamped by people of a different culture’. Apparently Britons were afraid that immigrants would be everywhere you turned, you’d open your washing machine and out would pop a family of immigrants, you’d go down to your local Tesco’s and behind the bread would be immigrants (ED: Tesco’s was founded by the son of a Polish immigrant by the way). Yet, Britain’s ambivalence about recent immigrants remained, even when faced with the prospect of domination by Germany. British officials insisted that black troops be barred from serving on military bases in the West Indies leased to the United States, and when America joined the war Britain willingly complied with the US army’s racist Jim Crow practices.
More recently, Thatcher’s statement was later echoed by David Blunkett in 2002, when he stated that refugee children would be ghettoised in detention centres to prevent them ‘swamping the local school’. Negative rhetoric still persists and only serves to reinforce stereotypes, myths and hostilities. Senior Conservative, Nicholas Soames, opened a house debate after a petition that called for ‘all necessary measures’ to be taken to ensure the population stays ‘well below’ 70million was signed by more than 153,000 people. But Lib Dem MP Martin Horwood who was ‘concerned about the tone’ of Mr Soames and Mr Field’s speeches asked, ‘would he agree that actually immigrants can make a very positive contribution to our economy, and to our culture, and we need to take a balanced, evidence-based approach to this whole debate, and not use language that will inflame fears amongst minority ethnic communities in this country?’ To which Mr Field responded: ‘There is not the case that unlimited migration of the scale that we’ve seen is such an economic advantage to this country as some of those proponents of open doors would wish us to believe.’
Statistics show that the British Asian community makes up just 4% of the population of Britain but contributes double that percentage to the economy. 19% of doctors are of Asian or British Asian origin and more than 10% of doctors were qualified in India. In addition to the medical profession, people from the ethnic minority communities have excelled in a number of other professions. The online newspaper Muslim View wrote on 23 May 2012 that Britain has more than 10,000 Muslim millionaires, including 53 billionaires. According to the Salaam Portal website, there are 100 charities in the UK run by Muslims.The Chinese who live, study and visit Britain contribute a huge amount to the UK, including the 200,000-odd students who pay education fees and the many professionals of Chinese origin who work in the City and around the country. The Chinese catering industry alone employs in excess of 100,000 people and contributes £4.9 billion to the economy.
So the myth that immigrants come to England, remain unemployed and consume tax payer’s money seemed to be… how do I put this, wrong! The government’s own statistics show the opposite, yet the word ‘immigrant’ has become a term of abuse across the media and political sphere and is ‘toxic.’ Whilst there are people of all walks of life who abuse benefits and tax’s systems, immigrants are disproportionately associated with issues of benefit fraud, or their unworthiness to receive benefits, long-term unemployment, and their perceived burden on the tax-payer which obviously relies on an assumption that they themselves are not employed. Immigrants can and do make a positive contribution not only to our economy but to our services and culture.
For more information on myths about immigration, benefits and the media keep an eye out for the beginning of our ‘Dirty Word series’ starting in November.