We must stop blaming our neighbours instead of the government
At the end of the film The Big Short, the realisation sets in that the 2007 financial crisis is about to hit and the world economy will be brought to its knees.
Those who have bet on it rejoice, as do those who had long wished for the corruption of the financial system to be exposed. But Mark Baum (Steve Carell) delivers a chilling prediction:
“I have a feeling, in a few years people are going to be doing what they always do when the economy tanks. They will be blaming immigrants and poor people.”
It was a prophecy that has come to pass. But last week a hole was blown in the myth that migration costs us; a £16 billion hole, because that is how much worse off we could be if the government’s plans to reduce migration go ahead.
Where I live in Lambeth, the most pro-Remain borough in the country, we know it all too well. A few hundred yards from my house are three Polish supermarkets and a bar. If we lose people who came to the UK to work we lose their income too – it really is that simple. We lose workers who do vital jobs and, of course, we lose people who have become valuable members of our communities.
On the day the Green Party is celebrating free movement, the Labour Party’s divisions on the issue are becoming increasingly clear. Some of the party’s MPs believe that the best response to the backlash against migrants is to talk tough on migration.
Indeed Stephen Kinnock, who spoke on the airwaves today of ‘indigenous British workers’, said only recently that he wants his party to stop ‘obsessing about diversity’. At a time when we badly need to be united in our defence of migrants’ rights, it’s sad to see some in Labour pandering to UKIP on the issue.
It is time we were bold enough to state what is self-evident. Last week the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that in total we are looking at an extra £59 billion of borrowing because of Brexit – with £16 billion of that due to a cut in migration.
This sits in stark contrast with the dangerous narrative which has dominated our newspaper and television screens this year – that migrants are to blame for all our problems.
We teach our children history because we believe that they should learn the lessons of the past. It seems that all we learn from history is that we learn nothing at all. As in previous generations, migrants are scapegoated for the challenges we face as a nation – from a lack of decent jobs to a chronic housing shortage and an NHS in crisis.
How convenient that the new UKIP leader Paul Nuttall, a backer of NHS privatisation, points the finger at migrants for our problems when our healthcare system is cracking because of marketization he supports.
Indeed when the government talks about introducing passport checks for NHS care we know that this is little more than a distraction from the chronic underinvestment in the NHS over the last six years.
We have invested less over this period as a proportion of GDP than at any time since the Second World War. Waiting lists are growing. Wards are increasingly understaffed. Healthcare staff are working longer hours to try to ensure, as best they can, that everyone receives the help they need.
And it is EU migrants that are propping up our hospitals. The NHS employs 100,000 people from other EU countries – 33,000 nurses and midwives and one in 10 doctors. What would happen to our National Health Service if those 100,000 were suddenly forced to leave? It would spell the end of the NHS as we know it.
EU migrants are actually less likely to use the NHS or claim the benefits they help us fund. And of every ten people who move to the UK from other EU countries, the London School of Economics found seven came in search of work. While with one breath the haters deride migrants unable to work, they has blamed them for ‘taking our jobs’ with the next.
Research from LSE found that, in parts of the UK where there have been the largest increases of workers from other EU countries, wages have not been driven down any more than in other areas.
The LSE also found EU workers do not have a negative impact on jobs or housing, while their taxes make an important net contribution to our economy and reduced migration would leave us facing greater cutbacks.
The real problem is not free movement but the government’s damaging cuts to the NHS and other vital public services; its failure to fully enforce the minimum wage – let alone set a real living wage which covers what people actually need to survive in law; its refusal to give young people the training and skills they need.
We must stop looking at our neighbours in anger and place the blame where it truly lies – with the government, and those who collude in its narrative of shame. We must recognise how much richer our lives and our country are when shared. If we do not we will find ourselves poorer in every sense.
Jonathan Bartley is co-leader of the Green PartySign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.