By Tim Farron
Theresa May’s claim today that Britain cannot have a cohesive society which includes a certain level of immigration is yet another depressing escalation in rhetoric from the Conservatives.
The prime minister has already branded refugees escaping the horrors of civil war and traversing the Mediterranean as a ‘swarm of migrants’ but this new language from May is pushing the debate around immigration to dangerous new levels.
The language, which conflates refugees and other migrants, and the lack of understanding about immigration, risks pitching communities against each other while demonising people who contribute so much to our country.
James Kirkup on his Telegraph blog summed up the Home Secretary’s tirade nicely:
“Immigrants are stealing your job, making you poorer and ruining your country. Never mind the facts, just feel angry at foreigners. And make me Conservative leader.”
Theresa May’s speech today is based on ingrained prejudice and does not relate to the government’s own evidence, which found
"There is relatively little evidence that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives from the labour market in periods when the economy is strong."
Similarly, a University College London study shows that immigrants, on the whole, contribute more to our economy through taxation and growth than they take out in the services they use. In fact, the study found that
"European immigrants who arrived in the UK since 2000 have contributed more than £20bn to UK public finances between 2001 and 2011".
And that migrants:
"Have endowed the country with productive human capital that would have cost the UK £6.8bn in spending on education".
The same study also found that between 1995 and 2011 the fiscal contribution from those native to the UK was actually in deficit to the tune of £591bn.
Theresa May demonised foreign students as visa-overstayers in her speech – but she ignores completely the staggering sum of money foreign students contribute to our higher education institutions.
The Home Secretary has apparently forgotten that foreign students enrich our universities, contribute huge sums to local economies and help fund our universities through their fees.
Their positive contribution to our economy is actually around £13bn every year.
Instead of encouraging this contribution, May's rhetoric and actions are driving wealthy foreign students to look elsewhere to study, depriving us of their money and knowledge.
Likewise, the NHS would collapse without immigration. Twenty-four per cent of doctors in hospitals are foreign-born and the BMA argues that without immigrants many NHS services would struggle to provide effective care.
At a time when NHS junior doctors are looking at options abroad thanks to the Health Secretary's policy proposals, we cannot afford to drive away those who come here to serve our society.
Put simply, without immigration our debts would be bigger, our NHS would have far fewer staff and we would have an even greater deficit.
But then, why let facts get in the way when you can give an anti-immigration speech in an attempt to win back voters lost to UKIP and position yourself as the next Tory leader?
By contrast the Liberal Democrats unashamedly welcome the contribution immigrants make to Britain’s communities, society and the economy.
We are outward looking and believe we are stronger when we work with our international partners and work together - but we are also economically literate.
Theresa May needs to get it into her head: immigration benefits our economy and helps us fund the society we want to build.
A society with a properly funded health service, a decent education system where people have the opportunity to make the most of themselves. A welfare system that supports people who need it most and enables people to lead a dignified life as they look for work, if they are able to, or supports them when they can’t. At least, that is the sort of society we should be trying to build.
So before Theresa May starts lambasting whole communities with demonstrably false, disingenuous, sound-bite driven claims about immigrants, she should look at what is actually threatening lower paid workers. Because it’s not immigrants.
It’s actually her government’s choice to cut working tax credits for the lowest paid, which the IFS estimates will cost 3 million families over £1,000 per year alone
It’s actually her government’s decision to cut Employment Support Allowance - slashing a third of the support given to people with conditions like depression or bipolar disorder.
And it's actually her government’s decision to force housing authorities to sell off their housing stock, failing to kick start the building of affordable housing and having no plan at all to address Britain’s housing crisis.
Ultimately, if she really wants to understand who is creating division and insecurity in communities up and down the country, she only needs to take a look around the Cabinet table.
Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats
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