Sarah Soyei, Regional Manager for Show Racism the Red Card East and South East England, discusses perceptions of immigration, anti-immigration rhetoric and the importance of critical thinking.
By Sarah Soyei: firstname.lastname@example.org
On Thursday 2nd May the UK went to the polls for the local elections and, taking many by surprise, UKIP polled 26% of the vote. Whilst there has been much debate over what this means for the future of UK politics, UKIP stood on a strong anti-immigration platform, so it is reasonable to assume that the vote reflects that there is widespread concern about immigration.
Recent research of UK attitudes tells the same story; an international survey of migration perceptions by Transatlantic Trends, asked people in Britain, the US, Germany, Italy, Spain and France what they thought about immigrants. 57% of people surveyed from the UK believed that there were too many immigrants, the highest of any nation surveyed, and those from the UK estimated that 31.8% of the population was foreign born. This figure is hugely over-estimated; the 2011 Census revealed that 13% of the UK population were born abroad.
Another survey carried out by Oxford University's migration observatory in the autumn of 2011, found that members of the public were most likely to associate immigration with asylum seekers, or illegal immigrants, even though these only make up a tiny proportion of the total.
Research by IPSOS Mori has shown that concern about immigration is not evenly spread throughout the UK. The concern is higher in the North East and the South West, which are the areas which have experienced the least immigration. So it is clear that people’s perceptions of the levels and impact of immigration are far removed from the reality, and that the most concern is in areas where people have the least interaction with immigrants, which implies that in many cases, these fears are not coming from people’s lived experience, but from other sources.
It is no surprise that people hold these views when you consider the messages that we are fed every day, from the media and from politicians. The day before the elections the Daily Express ran the story ‘White Britons will be in the Minority by 2066’, a common theme from the Daily Express, as discussed here. Migrants are portrayed by the media as criminals, yet a recent study by the LSE found that rather than rising, crime fell in areas of high immigration. Immigrants are simultaneously, lazy scroungers, wanting something for nothing yet stealing British jobs…
It is not just adults who are affected by these negative messages. Show Racism the Red Card works with over 50,000 young people throughout the UK every year. When we ask teenagers what they think the word immigrant means, they often offer up the word “illegal” or “those people who sneak into the country on the back of lorries”, never Robin Van Persie or Will.i.am. Young people are often shocked to find out that their family member or friend who came from abroad was also an immigrant. In our workshops, we encourage young people to question the information that they receive and to be proactive and research the facts for themselves to help to shield themselves from misinformation.
In truth, overall, immigration brings great advantages to the UK; immigrants meet needs in the labour market and buy goods and services as well as feeding into the great cultural mix that is 21st Century Britain. Research published in March showed that halting immigration would cost the UK £18bn in five years. Distorted views on immigration can have a very negative impact on community relations and manifest in racist attacks. In April two Polish men were injured in a racist attack in Jedburgh, Scotland, and in February a Polish mother was forced to flee her house in Bradford with her two young children after repeated attacks and abuse.
Fears about immigration are undoubtedly real. However, the government could and should be able to reduce these fears by imparting facts and encouraging reasoned debate, instead of compounding people’s fears. It is not racist to discuss immigration. However, inaccurate and hateful reporting about immigrants can encourage racism, xenophobia and prejudice and unless discussion on immigration becomes more balanced and accurate, will merely serve to create resentment and division within communities.
Our educational resource 'No Place For Hate' contains information and activities designed to combat contemporary racisms and encourage young people to think critically in order to reject prejudice and hate. The resource is available here