Monday, 24 November 2014

Today's anti-anti-immigration rant

I've been getting annoyed by the whole "it's not racist to go on and on about immigration" thing, so I looked at some numbers.

The supposedly "non-racist" arguments around immigration seem to focus on the "extra pressure" that immigration creates on welfare, public services, jobs etc.

Putting aside the fact that this is massively over-simplistic (it ignores how the economy actually works, whose fault it is that there's so much unemployment and underemployment, all the tax that immigrants are paying etc.), it boils down to this: a concern about rising population. So when people make these (ahem) "non-racist" arguments around immigration, they're essentially saying they're worried about the UK's rising population.

But if that's the case, then why focus solely on immigration? Last year, the UK population grew by around 400,000 people (in a population of 64,100,000), according to the Office for National Statistics. More than half of this growth was due to births with only 46% from net immigration.

This means that all those people who claim to be worried about the impact of immigration on schools and hospitals and the welfare budget need to ask themselves: why is the extra impact of someone born overseas who moves here a "problem", but the extra impact of someone born in the UK is no problem at all? I don't hear any UKIP politicians calling for a slowing of the birth rate to "ease pressure on services", even though UK births account for more than half of the "problem", especially when you take into account the fact that all the people being born are children, who are just a bloody drain on the country compared to immigrants (who are mostly adults and want to work, contribute to the economy, pay taxes etc.).'re not being racist but... you're saying there's some sort of difference between the UK population being added to by someone from abroad (which is an outrage) compared with someone born in the UK (which is totally fine).

It isn't racist to want to talk about immigration. However, to use anti-immigration arguments based on the idea that people from elsewhere create some kind of "problem" that UK-born people don't...that's a different matter. Some people might point out that strictly speaking, these could be seen as "only" xenophobic rather than racist arguments, to which I would reply: get a grip. If you're using these arguments then you're basing your point on irrational prejudice against others, and contributing to a climate of suspicion and fear against people born in other countries. The label we give it is less important than the effect it has, which is a deeply divisive and negative one. Whether or not these kinds of arguments are "racist" according to some strictly semantic definition ignores the fact that airing them helps to bolster and promote a deeper thread of racism that runs through our society.

Yes, I know that facts and figures alone won't do much to change people's minds on this (we also need different, more compelling narratives about who the real enemy is and why they want to distract and turn us against each other with immigrant-bashing rhetoric). I just wish that journalists would ask UKIP politicians these kinds of questions.

PS Of course, if I actually confronted a UKIP politician with these arguments I suspect they'd change tack and start going on about Eastern Europeans being willing to work for lower wages and take people's jobs, but that's a whole different argument to the "pressure on services" thing that's been annoying me today, and is a route into a whole other discussion about whose fault it REALLY is that there's a lack of decent employment, falling real wages etc. and how there are more meaningful, compassionate and effective things we could do about it than some doomed and hateful quest to restrict immigration.

PPS Just to make things clear before anyone jumps on me, this is not a rant about population growth. That's a whole other complex nuanced issue that would need an entire post to itself...

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