UK society is dead. Or that is what its detractors would like you to think. As the calls of “put the Great back into our Britain” fade with the dying days of 2011, many have made their mind up that our country is doomed to failure. With a looming double-dip recession, a seemingly endless war in Afghanistan and a failing National Health Service who could argue otherwise? What is so great about Great Britain?
Positivity in a time when we are continually reminded of our bleak existence is difficult to imagine. Somebody must be to blame for the deterioration of our country? Depending who you talk to, many will point the finger not at our leaders or themselves but towards those who they believe don’t belong here – immigrants and asylum seekers.
They take our jobs and houses. They burden our health and public services. They commit crime and rob our pensioners. If there is a problem they are to blame. We can rely on a relentless stream of sensationalist, agenda-led media to force feed us with distorted facts and malevolence. Enough to turn even the previously ambivalent middle-class housewife into a raging, red-faced sociopath who spits with venom at the mere mention of “those border-jumpers”. Establishing the roots of these misguided views is not the issue. It is clear that the influence of the press and particular societal values continue to have a far-reaching effect, with every word and poisonous comment sucked up by a baying and disillusioned public. Furthermore, the meaning of “immigrant” and “asylum seeker” is often lost amongst the rhetoric and no distinction is made between the two despite there being marked differences.
One could dissect hundreds of newspaper headlines throughout recent years that attempted (and succeeded with many people) to sway opinions against immigration and asylum seekers.
The most discussed issue is the financial cost and strain on the UK services. There is no escaping the fact that if you increase a population’s size, there will be an increase in the need for service provision. However it is important to look outside the box.
Research by the Home Office has shown that that immigrants and asylum seekers actually contribute more in taxes than they receive in Government spending – around 10 per cent. This means that they are in fact paying for themselves, plus making a further contribution to the Government purse. They pay up to £2.5bn more than is spent on them. A further example can be found in the price of training a doctor. It can cost up to £250,000 on the NHS. The cost to the public of supporting an asylum-seeking doctor? £25,000.
The media are experts at preying on the publics fears, and they have learnt which issues will strike the right chord with unsettled readers and viewers. When it comes to attention-grabbing headlines nothing does it better than “Immigrants come to UK for benefits”. A popular notion is that our benefit system is revered by people as far away as Eastern Africa, and that these people are willing to risk their lives clinging to the bottom of a train to receive buckets of cash from the State each week. The truth is that (depending on circumstances), single asylum seekers are given £37.77 per week in benefits. Those under 25 will receive below £30.00 per week. If a person was travelling here for the money, why not stop off in Belgium or Denmark? Both countries offer a higher amount of benefits for asylum seekers.
A report by the European Commission has established that these people do not travel here for the money. War and repression has been found to be the cause, not economic hardship.
It is also worth noting here that despite what your mate down the pub has told you, asylum seekers do not jump the queue for council housing. They may get a house quicker, but that is because they are placed in houses in “hard to rent” areas where other tenants do not wish to live.
Over the years the Great British public have never been without a platform to express their views. From Speakers Corner in Hyde Park to writing articles such as this, we have always been privileged to live in a democracy where we can impart our thoughts and share information with others. The rise over recent years of social media has also provided a new outlet for us to communicate our ideas and frustrations. One merely has to publish a couple of lines on the subject of immigration to elicit an often rabid response from like minded “Facebook Friends”. While sometimes the statements can be quite clearly racist, through using obvious derogatory comments to inciting violence, Facebook chooses to not censor most of those in the interests of freedom of speech.
The Corporation are correct in doing so as freedom of expression is a fundamental right under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950, enshrined in our law under the Human Rights Act 1998. Those out-of-touch European beaurocrats, the same people who are chastised by the right-wing for imposing laws on an unwilling UK population have created a law that protects your right to speak freely and without censorship. A law that allows you to speak your mind and share information with other people. One should remember that if you lived in Syria or Iran you could be murdered for “speaking your mind”. There is no human right to question the State. There is no democracy.
If your family were murdered by the police because you dared to have a political view that wasn’t in favour of the ruling party, would you stay in the country or would you seek asylum elsewhere to save the life of you and your remaining children? The answer is of course that you would do whatever it takes to ensure safety. Which is what many of the people coming to our country are trying to do.
It is worth noting that there are also immigrants in the UK who are not fleeing persecution or war, and may have begun their journey from a country within the EU.
Perhaps the most visible population of migrants originates from Poland. In recent years our society appears to have become more tolerant of these people from the East which is to be commended. Indeed there are pockets of the UK that are solely Polish (much to the disdain of the right) who get on perfectly well within the community. The complaints of “immigrants taking our jobs” are irrelevant. There is a difference between the Poles and those complaining, and that is that the Poles are willing to undertake the available work. The majority of jobs undertaken by Poles are unskilled manual labour: Factory work, picking lettuces in fields etc. There is an argument that “they are paid less than what we would be paid”. This is an incorrect reasoning and they are paid minimum wage. A wage that is considered to be enough to live on and above the poverty line. In comparison, the £37.77 previously mentioned that an asylum seeker receives per week is 30 per cent below the poverty line.
When considering the moral responsibilities of society towards asylum seekers and immigrants, could one not argue that human rights are inherent for every human due to the very simple fact that they are human? Why should the life of a 10 year-old Rwandan girl, who has had both her arms macheted off as a baby during the genocide, not be valued the same as a 10 year-old white girl from middle England? Why should the life of a young male from Afghanistan, whose parents were murdered for their political views, not be saved from the same fate by a supposedly “progressive” and “leading” nation? According to some they do not deserve to be saved because they were not born here. Ethics and morals clearly do not apply outside of our own borders.
The quandary of human rights often results in the concept being rubbished by those who choose not to confront their fears and instead hide behind a hateful and misguided view that detracts from the questions at hand. The fact remains that human rights exist to protect us from each other and those who lead us. Without them our lives would be very different. There would be no right to free speech, to a private life or an education to name but a few.
David Cameron argues for a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act, with one reason being that the HRA is being used to protect Asylum Seekers from being returned to their home country. Perhaps he is right in some circumstances, however he argues not for a complete erosion of rights but for legislation that is fit for purpose.
There is no escaping both our legal and moral obligations to help those that are in need, and in a time when natural disasters, global warming and disease are sweeping through our fragile world we need to remember that no matter what our colour or where we are born, we are all human and in this together.Tags: Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by Chris Bath