New figures released by the Office for National Statistics have revealed that UK net migration has hit a record high, with 330,000 migrants in the year to March – an increase of 28 per cent.The news has prompted alarm in some quarters, with the Immigration Minister James Brokenshire calling the figures “disappointing”.
But British society relies heavily on migrant workers – and it is wrong to vilify them. A one-day migrant strike – something proposed to me recently by a migrant – would reveal just how dependent we are.
Edith, a 32-year-old Polish woman, worked first in care homes on the south coast. She also picked up other cleaning jobs to help make ends meet.
Edith took English reading and writing classes in her own time. She became active in the local Catholic church, helping in the community. Throughout this time, she was paying taxes, while getting little back in return.
“We are here, we contribute, we pay our taxes. I do not understand why there are these constant attacks on migrants,” said Edith, who has become so exasperated that she believes there should be a migrant strike. “Then people would know exactly what we do.”
Migrants have always played a key role in keeping the wheels of the British economy turning. Some 26 per cent of doctors in the NHS come from other countries. Britain’s schools and colleges are packed with teachers from across the world. The transport system has been a ready employer of migrants, since London Transport went out in the 1950s to the West Indies looking for workers. The care sector would come to a halt if it weren’t for migrant workers.
Migration is good for the economy. The Government's own figures show that net migration of 250,000 per year boosts the annual GDP by 0.5 per cent, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility. This growth means more jobs, higher tax revenues, more funding for schools and hospitals and a lower deficit.
In the case of the Catholic Church, the arrival of Polish nationals and others from EU countries has boosted mass attendances across the country and added to the diversity of parish life.
Despite all the positive effects of migration public discourse is dominated by the voices of politicians promising to cut the numbers. The way migration to this country has been managed over the past couple of decades has built on many of the present resentments. Migrant workers have often been brought in to undercut the wages of indigenous workforces. The construction industry provides a particularly clear example of these practices. We should insist on minimum standards of pay and conditions for all.
If migrants were to withdrew their labour then many of the services that we take for granted would grind to a halt. A migrant one-day strike would really bring home to all of us just how much those coming from other countries contribute to our lives and well-being.
- Tablet - 28/8/2015