Despite public fears stoked by the media, immigrants are a vital part of the British economy and cultural life, says Cameron Boyle of Immigration News.
The mainstream media in the UK consistently reiterate the supposed damaging effect of immigration. All too frequently we hear that migrants are crippling our public services due to increased demand, and that immigration is the single greatest threat to our NHS. A recurring theme that emerges from such scare stories is irony. We are told that the flow of migrants into the country is destroying our health service, yet immigrants are an enormous part of the NHS and the services it provides. According to official figures, in 2015 19 per cent of the NHS’ 1.22 million staff members were non-British, a percentage comprising around 235,000 employees. Such statistics shed light on the immense contradiction at the heart of so much of the rhetoric that is spouted by the mainstream media. Rather than placing a huge amount of strain on our public services, immigrants are a vital and intrinsic part of their functioning.
Immigration increases population. With this in mind, there is some logic to the viewpoint that the flow of migrants leads to an increased demand for public services. However, demographics are hugely important here, and are often conveniently left out of the harmful and divisive narrative spun by our media outlets. As pointed out by FullFact, newly arriving migrants tend to be young adults. Due to their age, they are less likely to use public services and adult social care than the UK born population. Further to this, foreign-born individuals have been found to rely on social housing less than demographically similar UK born residents. This quashes the idea that British people are unable to access housing due to ‘immigrants taking them all’, an idea now almost as cliched as the notion that ‘immigrants come over here and take all our jobs.’
Whilst on that subject, immigrants actually generate a higher demand labour. Net migration is compatible with low unemployment; migrants contribute to the healthy functioning of the economy in that they generate both an increased supply of labour and an increased demand for labour. With regard to the mainstream media’s contradictions, those who move from overseas to the UK are somehow simultaneously characterised as not contributing to the economy and as ‘stealing all our jobs’. Immigrants are a vital part of the UK workforce. According to recent statistics, there are 5.4 million non-UK born workers currently in the UK, a figure that constitutes 17 per cent of the total workforce. In addition, aggregate figures often conceal how important immigrants are to particular industries. The food manufacturing industry draws 38 per cent of its overall workforce from the UK’s immigrant population. So rather than not contributing and sponging of the state, migrants are a monumental part of our economy and actually use public services less than the UK born population.
Moving on from economic matters, immigrants are a vital part of our deeply rich culture. One only has to look to the British dining scene to see evidence of this. Indigenous British cuisine is far from famed for its brilliance, yet as a result of immigration, our cuisine is now vibrant, diverse and global. The restaurants that have been set up by migrants have also helped to democratise the UK dining scene; eating out is now accessible and affordable to all. As a nation we have also become far more linguistically diverse as a result of immigration. There are now more than 300 languages spoken in the UK on a daily basis, providing an immense amount of learning opportunities. Not only this, but our ever-increasing linguistic diversity helps us to maintain our position on the world stage.
Immigration is characterised as a negative, subversive force. This needs to change. It enriches us, both economically and culturally. Immigrants are a vital part of our success as a nation, and they deserve to be respected for all they have contributed and continue to contribute.
Cameron Boyle is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration solicitors that provide legal aid to asylum seekers.