Migrants’ Rights Network: So we are better off because of migration, but why aren’t the politicians getting that message across?

by , under Don Flynn

Don Flynn*

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The blizzard of commentary that accompanies the annual budget statement also included a memo from the OBR saying “Mr Chancellor, immigration is good for us.” So will he, and other politicians, act on this message?

The news that projections for economic growth for the period ahead are being upgraded because of expectations that net immigration will continue at rates well above the targets set by government is consistent with all the views that have been coming from expert commentators in recent months.  

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In an article mulling over the evidence in the Guardian today, home affairs editor Alan Travis explains that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) “…calculates that net migration will add 0.6% to the potential output of the British economy and increase net tax receipts rather than be a burden, as most migrants are of working age rather than retired or children.”  Travis explains that “without continuing high levels of net migration, even deeper spending cuts and higher taxes would be needed before Britain reaches Osborne’s sunshine-filled economic pastures.”

It is good to have the OBR on your side when it comes to this argument but very little of this will surprise those of us who have been much closer to the real impacts of migration over a period when the official line coming from virtually all the parties is that it was a big mistake ever to have let migrants into the country in the first place.

For over a decade a largely young cohort of newcomers has been arriving in the UK looking to fill the vacancies which they knew existed in the sectors of the economy that were opening up and expanding.  In areas like food processing, social care and hotels and catering they provided the labour on terms that encouraged a vast array of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to expand their operations and pitch for contracts in demanding and competitive supply chains.

SME growth

As these businesses strengthened and became more resilient to setbacks their expansion continued, providing jobs not just to migrants but also increasing numbers of natives who frequently had the good luck to find themselves in supervisory positions.  A half million more SMEs came into existence during this period, helping to expand overall employment across the whole of the population by about four million posts.

The good health of the SME sector at the time the financial crisis of 2007-8 hit the world gave the UK a bit more of a cushion against its worst effects than existed in most countries.  Things became terribly hard for hundreds of thousands of wage earners during this period, and the long tail of the downturn imposed by the austerity policies of the government has continued to make things bad for many people, but if there is any silver lining to be glimpsed a lot of it comes virtue of the contribution made by migrants during these troubled last seven years.

Recognition of these facts has to date been limited to reports in the business pages of the broadsheets and weekly financial press, plus studies which have been assembled by independent researchers based in universities and social policy thinktanks.  Some higher profile unusual suspects have begun to appear on the scene in more recent times, willing to pitch the argument that immigration is a positive benefit to the country.  Amongst this group is the Conservative businessman, journalist and Big Brother contestant Derek Laud, whose new book The Problem with Immigrants reads like a ode of praise to the hardworking, ambitious immigrants who came to Britain over the last sixty years.

But these examples of contrary viewpoints exist to make the point that a credible, evidence-based, argument about the importance of immigration to our modern society is there to be put by anyone with the gumption to make the case.  This fact makes it all the more regrettable that such characters are as rare as hen’s teeth amongst the folk who populate the ranks of our elected politicians.

Over the next couple of days we will be able to report on the turnouts at this year’s celebration of International Day Against Racism, taking place on the 21 March with major events being staged inLondon and Glasgow.  The theme of marching for the rights of migrants will be well represented on the posters and placards on display on the day, with a clear message directed to all the candidates standing for election should not be chasing votes by making scapegoats out of migrants.

Get involved!

Beyond that we are pleased to report that the events list is rapidly filling up with news of activities being undertaken in different parts of the country as local migrant community activists get their acts together alongside campaigners for such causes as racial justice and against poverty and inequality come up with messages which will be set out during the general election campaign.

These include events like the #MigrantsContribute! take-over of the Elephant & Castle shopping centre on the 28th March and using this as an opportunity to celebrate the presence of the growing Latin American presence in the neighbourhood.

It is not too late for anyone to line up an activity which gets over the message to the party candidates that an increasing proportion of us our fed up with the anti-immigration narrative and expect to hear an honest account about the contribution migrants are making to our communities.  If you are planning anything please do drop us a line at info@migrantsrights.org.uk so we can add it to our roll-out of all the positive things that are being done to get the progressive case across on this issue.

Read original posting here.

This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.

*Don Flynn, the MRN Director, leads the organisation’s strategic development and coordinates MRN’s policy and project work. He is a regular and sought-after speaker at conferences, seminars and lectures on behalf of MRN.

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