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Home > Media

All you need is hate

The tablods take over the asylum

3 April 2004

The good news for Immigration Minister Beverly Hughes is that most people have forgotten that back in 2001, she was the politician who attacked Brass Eye's paedophile special, calling it ‘unspeakably sick’. She then admitted she hadn't seen it.

The bad news is that Hughes is under far more serious attack over accusations that she either had no idea what her departnment was getting up to or that she knew exactly what they were doing but repeatedly lied about it .

The press have been going bonkers over immigration for a while now - partly because paedophiles hibernate during the spring, leaving scribes with not much to write about. The latest shock-horror revelation was the news that the immigration service let in thousands of asylum seekers without proper checks.
A bad thing, surely? Perhaps. But it all rather depends on whether immigration is quite the problem the tabloid press claims.

Concern about immigration all stems from a fairly simple idea. In theory, there will inevitably a point at which a country finds its quality of life eroded by high levels of immigration, based on the debatable assumption that new immigrants consume wealth, in the form of benefits and services, rather than generate it.
However, real life isn't so simple. Poor souls like the Chinese cockle pickers generate wealth by doing black economy work that anyone who could claim benefit would avoid, quicker than you can say Supermarket Sweep. And while many immigrants do claim benefits, it's not exactly the state-sponsored beanfeast The Daily Express would have you believe. Asylum seekers can't claim mainstream welfare benefits, instead having to live on £37.77 a week. And while most of them (understandably) want to work, regulations prevent them doing so.

On a wider scale, some believe immigration adds to the nation's coffers. An oft-quoted piece of Home Office research from 2002 found that, overall, immigrants pay £2.5bn more in taxes than they take in benefits. Some economists argue that in the long term, adding more people to the workforce causes economic growth, just as the addition of more land or capital would.

Needless to say, not everyone agrees. The Home Office research itself admits that ‘empirical estimates of the fiscal effect are difficult to obtain’. Pressure groups like Migrationwatch UK say the basic problem is not immigration per se, but the current large-scale immigration that imposes significant costs on the state.

Unfortunately, a huge lack of information makes it difficult to tell what's really going on. No one seems to know how many immigrants are currently in the UK or are likely to arrive soon.

Noone knows what most immigrants are doing or plan to do. Are they plugging gaps in the UK workforce? Are they signing on? Are they working but causing unemployment in minimum-wage sectors of the economy? Are the current high levels of immigration a short-term blip or are we looking at genuine population expansion?

The tabloid mindset is a strange one. They've obviously got a right-wing agenda, but mainly they just thrive on hate and vitriol.Just cast your minds back to the out-of-proportion slagging the tabloids gave Jade Goody, an annoying but inconsequential micro-celebrity who wasn't even an immigrant. At the peak of the Jade-hate it wouldn't have been surprising to see front-page headlines saying `KILL THE PIG'. In fact, maybe we did.

The tabloid argument falls down not because large-scale immigration doesn't cause problems, but because the tabloids are in the business of massively exaggerating those problems.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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