Issue 169 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published November 1993 Copyright © Socialist Review
Arguments about immigration rage as immigrants are blamed for jobs and housing shortages. The truth is very different.
Britain is not overcrowded. The population density of Britain (570 people per square mile) is about average for Europe. Holland, which is more prosperous, is more crowded (1,000 ppsm). India, which is less prosperous, is also more crowded (625 ppsm).
Britain's population is not exploding. Between 1981 and 1991 the population went up by an average of 130,000 people a year--an increase of 0.2 percent. Of that 130,000, just 21,000 were immigrants, white and black. This increased the population by less than 0.04 percent a year.
This century far more people have left Britain than have come in. In the 1970s on average 44,000 more people went to live abroad than came here to settle every year.
In 1991 only 420 asylum seekers were allowed to live here permanently, half the number of the previous year despite a doubling of the number of applications.
Government forecasts predict that in 30 years time the number of deaths will outstrip the number of births.
The history of post-war immigration has coincided with the rise and fall of unemployment. In the 1920s and 1930s, when there was chronic unemployment in Britain, very few people came here. Large scale immigration from the New Commonwealth (Africa, Asia and the Caribbean) began in the 1950s and went on until the 1970s. During all this time there were never more than one million unemployed. Since unemployment went over one million and stayed there, immigration has steadily fallen.
Immigration from the New Commonwealth rose from less than 2,000 a year in the early 1950s to around 45,000 a year in the late 1950s. It peaked at 125,400 in 1961, fell back to 45,000 a year in the 1970s, and since the 1980s has hovered at around 25,000 a year.
The ethnic breakdown of each major city in Britain reflects its period of economic expansion and prosperity. There are more blacks and Asians in Birmingham and London than in Glasgow because in the 1950s, when much of the immigration was from the New Commonwealth, Birmingham and London were booming while Glasgow was stagnating. Today, New Commonwealth immigrants make up just 1 percent of the populations in Scotland, Wales and the North, compared with 9 percent in the South East (mainly London) and 5.5 percent in the Midlands. Immigration is a sign of a healthy expanding economy. Lack of immigration is a sign of stagnation.
Before 1962 anyone in the British Commonwealth--600 million people--could come and settle in this country free of all controls. They only came when there was work. The numbers arriving from the West Indies, India and Pakistan were:
The sudden drop in 1958 was not because of new controls--there weren't any. There was a very small recession, which cut the number of immigrants almost by half. Immigration rose again when the economy recovered.
There are no controls on Irish people immigrating here. Yet the number of Irish people in Britain fell by more than 30 percent in the recession years of 1990-92.
Immigrants came here because there were more jobs than workers to fill them. Many of these jobs, incidentally, were in the building industry and the NHS. In other words, immigrants have helped to build houses as well as live in them, and staff hospitals as well as use them.
Immigration controls are racist. They take no account of the economic reasons why workers migrate. Instead they create the impression that immigration is a drain which has to be stopped. They discriminate against the poor. Rich immigrants are welcome in Britain.
White immigration from countries such as South Africa is welcomed if immigrants can prove some distant link with British grandparents. But black children and other relatives of workers in Britain are denied entry.
Most people who immigrate are of working age. Around two thirds of West Indian and Asian immigrants arrive in Britain as adults aged under 35. As such, they are 'ready made' workers, much of whose education, housing and welfare has been paid for by the country they left. In this sense, they are the opposite of a 'drain' on the British economy and take much less on average from social services.
The argument that unemployment (now standing at three million) would be solved if the three million immigrants left is totally false. When capitalism goes into slump in any country, unemployment hits the whole population, whatever its size or ethnic breakdown. Small communities are just as likely to be ravaged by unemployment as large. Areas with few immigrants are just as likely, if not more likely, to suffer high unemployment as those with large immigrant populations. The areas of highest unemployment--Northern Ireland and the North (averaging over 11 percent unemployment) and Scotland (around 10 percent)--all have low immigrant populations (1 percent). East Anglia, which has the lowest average unemployment (less than 8 percent), has 3 percent immigrants.
Blacks and Asians are the victims of slumps, not the cause. In 1992, the unemployment rates by ethnic origin were:
Pakistani/Bangladeshi--nearly 25 percent
Immigrants are not responsible for the housing crisis. It is worst in the inner cities of London, Glasgow and Liverpool. Yet these areas have become less crowded in the past 20 years--by an average of 7 percent.
There are too few houses available for people to live in because it is more profitable to build offices than homes, because the Tories have slashed budgets for council housing, and because over 800,000 houses are left empty as second homes for the rich or by property speculators. Again, immigrant families often suffer the most from the housing crisis. Only one in seven Asian families has two or more rooms per person, compared with over half of white families.