Immigration has dominated the discussion in the run up to the European elections on Thursday. Politicians and the media are happy to spread anti-migrant myths, Bunny La Roche seeks out the facts
MYTH: Migrants hold down wages
There is little evidence that mass migration has significantly driven down wages. Three studies undertaken between 2009-2011 shows that Cameron is using migration to support his own political agenda. He aims to divide us by blaming migrants, rather than the bosses, for falling living standards.
Another extensive survey carried out by the TUCs on the link between migration and falling wages, found “no strong evidence to link falling wages with migration.” Instead, it suggests that migration “enhances wage growth.”
The DWP’s own figures also found there is no evidence of wages slowing in most industries due to migration. There has been a negligible fall in agricultural wages. The blame here does not lie with migrants, but with the Tory led coalition and the rich landowning farmers.
Tory and Lib Dem Peers, many of them rich landowners themselves, voted in the House of Lords last year to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB). Unite, whose members include farm workers, said “scrapping the board could affect the livelihoods and drive down the wages of 150,000 agricultural workers in England and Wales. The abolition of the AWB would decimate agricultural workers’ livelihoods and take £247m out of their pockets in the next 10 years, according to Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affair’s own figures.
MYTH: Migrants burden our NHS
We hear stories all the time about record numbers of Eastern European migrants attending A&E departments. But research carried out by Adam Steventon from the Nuffield Trust found that migrants use the NHS less frequently than British born people. Steventon concluded: “In fact, admission rates were around half that of English-born people of the same age and sex.”
In reality, overcrowded A&E’s have been caused by hospital cuts, slashing services in residential and community care and the serious disintegration of mental health services.
Additionally, statistics from the think tank Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) show that the NHS would be under severe strain if migration were reduced as many services it offers rely on migrant labour. The report prompted the British Medical Association to observe that without the contribution of non-British staff, “many NHS services would struggle to provide effective care to their patients”.
MYTH: Migrants cause unemployment
Capitalism’s booms and slumps cause unemployment, not migrants. The loss of one million public sector jobs are not the fault of migrants. Neither are they responsible for slashing tens of thousands of jobs in the manufacturing industry.
Again, blame lies with the Tories, the bosses and the system which seeks profits above all else.
In 1992, when unemployment was at its highest, more people left Britain than entered it. When unemployment started to fall, more people came here. When the jobs market suffered another slump, again, migration fell. At the end of June 2012, net migration fell by a third in comparison to the previous twelve months, but joblessness rose.
The recent rise in immigration is due to the entry into the EU of some Eastern European countries. The workers from those countries came to take advantage of job opportunities. However, as soon as the jobs dried up, the majority went back home.
A government study from 2006 has shown that migration from EU member states has been unexceptional. The top five countries for arrivals to the UK are: China, India, Poland, US and Australia.
As the economic slump really begins to bite, studies have found that migrants are likely to be the first to lose their jobs.
MYTH: Migrants drive up rents
Every day rents are spiralling, often leaving those on low incomes in a precarious position.
Some buy-to-let landlords are now refusing to let out their properties to those on benefits, despite making huge profits from them before the housing crisis became so acute. Therefore, it is understandable that people think that renting would be easier and cheaper if there were less competition from migrants.
In reality, it is scarcity that is driving the cost of rent to stretching point for tenants. Landlords and property owners leave properties empty to drive up rents and increase house prices. A survey in 2012 by Empty Homes Charity reports that 710,000 homes are unoccupied.
Studies have shown that even if there was zero migration, 270,000 homes would need to be built every year to stem soaring house price rises from outstripping wage increases. The housing bubble we are facing now is predominately driven by financial speculation.
Foreign born people are three times more likely to be in private rented accommodation. Alan Travers reported in the Guardian that the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that “queue jumping for social housing by migrants is a myth. Most newly arrived migrants are actually banned from access to social housing.”
MYTH: Migrants get too may benefits
Cameron, Ukip and others suggest that migrants come here to claim benefits as Britain is considered a ‘soft touch’. Evidence points otherwise:
- Migrants represent 13% of the workforce in England and Wales. Only 7% of migrants to the the UK claim out-of-work benefits.
- Migrants from outside the EEA (the EU plus Norway, Lichtenstien and Iceland) represent only 9-10% or workers; only 5% of migrants claim benefits.
- All migrants from the EU who arrived after 2004, with one year’s residence, are legally entitled to claim benefits. However, they are 60% less likely to claim them than British born people.
- Migrants from the EU actually contribute to public services. They pay around 30% more in taxes towards services than they take from them.
How can we stop the scapegoating?
Our rulers use the fear of migrant workers undercutting British born workers in the sameway it uses the threat of the dole queues to keep workers in line. Their message is stark: put up with pension cuts, wage freezes and job losses or ‘we can find others that will’.
The bosses, however, have conflicting attitudes towards immigration. They desire that workers be afraid of losing their jobs, so that they can inflict poorer conditions upon them. This is what some bosses hope they’ll be able to achieve with migrant labour.
Some industries need a highly skilled and stable workforce, which tends to cost more. Therefore, the bosses endeavour to cut their labour costs by pitching workers against each other in the hope of seeing each other as enemies and competitors instead. But all workers share something in common: they are all exploited by the bosses who wish to make more profits. They are prepared to take any necessary measures to keep their profit margins as high as possible.
The bosses also rebuke the government for establishing limits on the numbers of workers arriving to this country, as they are deemed to be cheap and flexible labour. At the same time, they use the anti-migrant rhetoric to fuel divisions. This is the contradiction that exists between them, and extends even to the cabinet.
These contradictions also exist amongst workers. Many appear to take the peddled myths of immigration for granted. This is because lies are churned out by Ukip, the three main political parties, newspapers, television and the internet on a daily, if not hourly basis. It serves the interests of profit to tout these lies. The majority of workers, when questioned, say they are not racist and appreciate the benefits of a multi-cultural society.
Often people who vocalise the desire to restrict immigration are friendly with Asians, Africans and Eastern Europeans in their work places, their neighbourhoods and at college. Many can be won to a united fight against the bosses, landlords and the
government for better jobs, housing and services for all. Therefore it’s crucial that socialists are involved in all campaigns that fight for decent reforms for all. It is the task of socialists to make the case in every campaign that even the lowest paid migrant workers can fight back too.
When black and Asian workers came to Britain in the 1960s, they were perceived as being a ‘soft touch’ for the bosses. However, the struggles that took place in the 1970s transformed those ideas. The struggles now being waged will again change our outlook towards the next generation of migrants.