Immigration is the main the topic of debate in the UK right now. This follows its decision to prevent EU immigrants from claiming benefits during their first three months of entry into the country.
Under the restrictions, benefits will also be cut after six months for those “with no job prospects”; housing benefit claims will be axed; and a 12-month re-entry ban will be imposed on those “who have been removed for not working or being self-sufficient”.
What’s mystifying about this decision is not panic over the anticipated influx of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants when immigration rules were relaxed on New Year’s Day.
It is the fact the proposals are targeted at EU citizens, despite the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing just three European countries out of 10 account for the highest number of non-UK born residents living in England and Wales.
The figures are particularly striking from an Irish perspective. According to the ONS, the highest number of immigrants for every decade over a 60-year period were from Ireland.
India hit the top spot in 2011, with Ireland slipping to fourth position behind Poland and Pakistan. Some 684,000 immigrants arrived from India during the past decade, compared to 579,000 from Poland and 407,000 from Ireland.
The only other European country included in the top ten contributors to UK immigration in the past ten years was Germany at 274,000.
Total immigration to the UK from these three EU countries was 1.26 million. However, the non-EU countries in the top ten accounted for more than 2.1 million.
There were 7.5 million non-UK born residents living in England and Wales for the ten years to 2011. Some 45% of these came from the countries listed in the top ten.
On announcing the decision to restrict benefits to EU immigrants, prime minister David Cameron said: “The hard-working British public are rightly concerned that migrants do not come here to exploit our public services and our benefits system.
“Accelerating the start of these new restrictions will make the UK a less attractive place for EU migrants who want to come here and try to live off the state.”
However, his comments jar with recent findings from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR).
Last November, it published a report highlighting the importance of UK inclusion in the EU and the benefits of EU immigration on its economy.
The NIESR report said: “A number of studies have documented the – broadly positive – impact of EU workers on the UK labour market.
“Moreover, the fiscal impacts are positive and significant since EU nationals are considerably more likely to be in work than the UK-born, and considerably less likely to be claiming benefits.”
Ireland has a strong relationship with the UK borne out of a long history of conflict and negotiation, and more recently, mutually beneficial trade agreements.
In fact, living in London as an Irish person you realise a huge portion of British people think of us as the same. It makes us favourable in their eyes and we rarely receive the criticism eastern Europeans do.
The Tories latest decision penalises Irish immigrants along with other EU migrants (which indeed it should), although I’d question how many Britons are aware of this.
Still, figures from the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) show 21,900 people emigrated from Ireland to the UK between January and April 2013.
Since Ireland has contributed massively to UK immigration figures in the past 70 years, you would think we would be the subject of discussion when Cameron raises concern over the damaging effect of EU migrants.
We are not.
The ONS data shows plenty of immigration occurs from other former British colonies too, like India and Pakistan, although there is little mention of the potential harm non-EU immigrants could be having on the economy.
Cameron and his posse are not bothered about German immigrants either it seems.
This attack on EU immigration is deliberately targeted at eastern European countries, and often, former Soviet Union nations.
It’s blatant racism to single out one nationality or ethnicity in a debate about immigration. If you are not going to hit out at Irish or German immigrants, how dare you say eastern Europeans are the problem.
The Irish have been a problem for decades if Cameron is really so concerned about immigration.
But this campaign is not really about immigration and the figures don’t stack up anyway.
This is about creating an enemy. The UK’s service sector would crumble tomorrow if Polish migrants up and left.
So it’s about time Cameron lashed out at all of us who have caused such a ‘pandemic’. Or else kept stum.
But to pursue xenophobia in a vein attempt to win regional British votes is dangerous.
If the Tories shone a spotlight on the truth of immigration figures, they wouldn’t win votes because people in the UK tend to like the Irish. And it is home to strong Pakistani and Indian communities.
So he is insulting and victimising the only group that does not have a strong historical tie to Britain. And it never will if he keeps up this shallow battle.
A battle that could undo the entire EU.