Will no one stand up and be counted? Will no one speak out against the frenzy that has become the talking point in Medway as we face a by-election in Rochester and Strood on November 20th?
Will someone speak out against the dominant attitude that all our problems will be solved if we just stopped immigration? Frankly, I’m surprised by all parties peddling this populist position in the hunt for votes, their naked ambition is sucking us all into a downward spiral of witch hunting, scapegoatism and division. But we have been here many times before.
Over the generations, all problems have been heaped on the current wave of migrants to our shores.
In the face of ‘No Irish, No Dogs’, immigrant workers from Ireland came to build the canals and railways, contributing to the industrial revolution that propelled Britain to the top place in the industrial league.
In the face of antagonism from a small but vocal UK fascist party, the Jews found refuge here and contributed to the rise of the professional classes making distinctions in all areas including the sciences, arts and financial sectors.
In post-war years, immigrants from former British colonies, namely the Indian sub-continent, Africa and West Indies were accused of creating ‘rivers of blood' while they quietly propped up the NHS services, and took on highly skilled and unskilled jobs in both the private and public sectors.
So let’s talk facts and inject some good business sense.
We all accept that immigration has contributed positively to the economy. According to government sources, migrants contribute £2.5 billion more every year to the UK economy than they consume in government services. FACT*
Across the UK, Migrants only make up 12% of the workforce, comprising around 212,000 people every year. FACT*
In Medway, the figures vary but all sources show that the region experiences less migration from non-UK citizens than the national average.
In fact figures from the UK census in 2011 show Rochester has a lower rate of residents either born in other EU countries or outside the EU than the national average but higher migration from residents born in UK. (The information is taken from the ilivehere.co.uk website).
Migrant workers are just as vulnerable as UK workers when it comes to accepting low-paid jobs and facing possible exploitation by their employers.
The perception that they singly force down wages by merely accepting work puts them into a position of power that they do not have, nor wish to have. Besides in Britain we have a minimum and a living wage as well as excellent labour legislation governing working conditions which should be rigorously enforced.
Furthermore, those that cry out that wages are being forced down by migrants are the very same people who complain that enforcing a minimum and living wage pushes many companies out of business.
The perception that British employers prefer to hire migrant workers in favour of British-born workers says more about industrial relations in this country and attitudes to work held by UK residents than it does about migrant workers willing to accept work. But this is a perception. There is no hard evidence to confirm it is a real trend.
Many of these facts and points of information were highlighted in a recent workshop presented by Kathy Roddy.
The workshop sponsored by the North Kent Training Services called ‘Exploring Issues around Diversity and Migrant Workers: A Workshop for Medway Employers’ successfully exploded the myths surrounding the negative impact of migration and therefore diversity in Medway.
Kathy Roddy explained that "migrants and native workers have a great deal in common than they perhaps think or know. For both a large part of the incentive for entering the labour market is to make the most of earning opportunities, offsetting the benefits of higher wage levels against negative impacts on the priorities they have for their lives – such as free time to raise families or the avoidance of anti-social employment conditions”.
The workshop provided a set of guidelines and resources to help employers protect migrant workers like ensuring correct legal documentation and protection against discrimination.
‘It makes good business sense to treat workers fairly and considerately. Organisations should ensure they have policies in place which are designed to prevent discrimination both to stay within the law and to attract the best employees,’ says Kathy Roddy.
As I post this blog, a new report published by the University of London confirms the overwhelmingly positive contribution of EU immigration into the UK revealing migrants added 4.4bn more to the public purse than they took out over the past two decades.
The narrative is not so good for immigrants from non-EU countries, revealing they have taken out 118bn more than they have contributed, but the figures are even worse for UK -born workers who have made a negative contribution of £591bn over the same period, according to the report.
The figures confirm what we know to be true - that in times of hardship it is easy for leaders to whip us into a frenzy, making us look for scapegoats and hunt for witches where they don’t exist.
The greater challenge is to adapt to change in a globalised world. Our leaders should be preparing us to face this eventuality rather than encouraging us to become more insular.
So it’s heartening to find out, as I launch a new online publication promoting diverse businesses in Medway, that I am not the only voice speaking in favour of diversity and social cohesion because deep down, it's not rocket science, it just makes good business sense…… *The facts are taken from the Office for National Statistics, 2012