One of the big distractions for the right wing press the last few weeks has been the impending lapse of travel restrictions for Romanians, Bulgarians and Hungarians. Naturally this has sent the likes of the Daily Mail and Express into a complete tizzy. Why those sneaky workshy types will soon be over here to live off our generous benefits system.
….or will they?
It is constantly suggested by the right wing press that the UK benefits system is one of the worlds most generous. However, official statistics tell a different story. fullfacts.org, do a review of this claim based on various sets of official statistics, including the EUs Eurobarometer Series, the ESRCs and the OECD. These statistics all put the UK mid table as far as its welfare state goes, as compared to other Western democracies. Indeed within the EU the UK is actually towards the bottom end of the scale.
For example the OECD wage replacement rate in the event of unemployment averages 65.8% (across all OECD countries, 2007) but the UK rate is just 57.1%, while its 66.5% in Germany, 70% in France, 73.2% in Hungary and 87.6% in Luxembourg.
As Richard Excell of Liberalconspiracy.org points out:
The notion that Eastern Europeans are traveling across Germany and France, ignoring Scandinavia and the low countries to get at our benefits system is, frankly, bonkers
So the Romanian gypsies cant add or subtract, but the Tory will still claim that such people are only here to scrounge off our benefits system. Again Fullfacts.org look at this one. They point out that:
“As at February 2011, 16.6% of working age UK nationals were claiming a DWP working age benefit compared to 6.6% of working age non-UK nationals…
I would for the record note that the Romanian economy (and many other Eastern European economies) are currently growing with a lower unemployment rate than the UK (7.7% against 7.1%) and less households below the poverty line (12% in Romania and 14% in the UK, although its worth noting that these figures predate the Tory cuts consequently theres likely many more times this number in the UK now), as a quick thrall through Eurostats will show you.
All in all it is difficult to escape the conclusion that not only do the statistics and facts not support the Torys or their right wing allies in BNP, UKIP and other elements of the bigot brigade. But actually, if anything the facts suggest a completely opposite conclusion that the overwhelming majority of migrants to the UK are here to work (paying taxes while they do so) or study (contributing to the British economy by paying tuition, accommodation and living expenses) and otherwise make a positive contribution to the UK economy.
It is also a fact of history that whenever a new country has joined the EU, many of its young people have taken the opportunity to travel to other EU countries, live and work for a few years before going back home to settle down for good. Sure some settled in their newly adopted state, but for the vast bulk went back. Recall the many UK builders and other tradesmen who sought work in the 80s in Germany (largely to escape Thatchers recession), as dramatized by the TV series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. Indeed the Torys triple dip recession has sent another wave of British workers off the Germany in recent years.
Now if Der Spiegel brought out an article claim the Brits were only in Germany to scrounge off the German states generous benefits system (which doesnt include the welfare chain gangs or other vanity schemes of the UK system…and pays out more to boot!), or that the Brits just sat around all day drinking and fighting (over football) or regularly cheated on their taxes (which is admittedly true as far as certain Torys are concerned…or comedians!). I suspect there would be an outcry by the UK media and government.
So you can understand why the Romanian government and people are rather upset at this bigotry directed at them by the UK tabloid press (a nice counter point from, of all people, one of the Cheeky girls, here). Indeed the Romanian government has pointed out that the bulk of those Romanians who would want to move to the UK have probably already done so.
Indeed the danger isnt so much Romanians coming over here taking our jobs but the opposite, Romanians staying at home and our jobs migrating to Romanian instead. Transnational corporations will relocate to where they can find an appropriate workforce and that means companies upping stakes and moving East, if they cant find the workforce here.
I also have to point out the hypocrisy of it all. We have the super-rich buddies of the Tory party, most of whom come from the Middle East, Russia or various tax haven states, swanning around London in their Bentleys and Ferraris. The Torys will wring their hands about the thought of god forbid, making them pay the same taxes the rest of us have to pay (even council tax!).
But then a load of working and middle class Eastern Europeans come into the country, many with the expressed intention of getting jobs, starting businesses and paying taxes. And the Torys go all Enoch Powell on them.
Now Im not suggesting an open door policy on emigration. I dont agree for example with Councils paying for translation services (if youre moving to another country to live the least you can be expected to do is learn the local lingo!), I dont see why the UK should compromise its food standards to accommodate Halal foods (as recent events have shown those food standards rules exist for a reason!). I believe that immigrants need to, as the saying goes when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
But hidden within the rhetoric of the Right wings attitude towards immigrants is an element of bigotry, racism and xenophobia, and this must be opposed and challenged.