|Photograph: scx.hu; Romania-insider.com|
Scary lot, aren't they? Massing to invade us so they can claim our benefits, strain our education and health services and pick our pockets. Cameron really should have done more to keep them out.
They're Romanians. But not the sort of Romanians you are likely to see in any of our newspapers. Where are the headscarves, the toothless grins, the grubby clothes, shawls and bedrolls?
These young people have the same concerns as young people the world over: the need to feel part of a society, the desire to be educated and to work, to bring up a family, to be happy. So of course they shouldn't be allowed here.
Nor should the Bulgarians - though we're not quite sure why. They're Eastern Europeans, let's just lump them in with the Poles and the Romanians and the Slavs and the Hungarians.
There can hardly be a more inflammatory subject than immigration and every opinion is based on exactly the same misinformation, rough estimates, speculation, anecdote and prejudice. Hard facts and figures are hard to come by and official statistics, whether from Whitehall or Brussels, are vague. So the debate is being driven by those who shout loudest, those who genuinely feel threatened and those who like to scapegoat foreigners.
Few shout louder than our glorious tabloids - especially as the clock ticks towards midnight and eyes are deflected from Big Ben, the fireworks and Jools Holland to the hordes swarming at the docks and airports waiting for the magic moment when they will be let in.
Nonsense. Of course it is. They could have come in today, last week, last month. Bulgarians and Romanians have been citizens of the EU for seven years; they are entitled to travel through the community just as anyone else. What they have not been allowed to do until tonight is to come here to work in anything other than specific occupations.
If they want to come to beg and steal, they will have exactly the same rights tomorrow as they have today - the right to come into Britain for up to three months and the right to be taken to court or deported if they sleep rough, bring out the begging bowl, or snatch your handbag.
The new rules lift working restrictions, so there may be more bricklayers, plumbers, nurses and - in the longer term - rather fewer strawberry pickers. Then again, there may not.
The tabloids seem convinced that tens of thousands of immigrants are heading this way. Buses and planes out of Bucharest and Sofia are booked solid until next week. The Sun spoke to a coachload that hit the road yesterday. It found five people who expected to make £20, £40 or £150 a day from begging and stealing, some, apparently working for latter-day Fagins already here. Others had been given advice on what benefits they could claim; England was the promised land.
The Sun also met a plumber and a carpenter who were hoping to earn ten times as much as they did at home. The honest pair were naturally given far less space than the scroungers. And what of the other 45 or so people on the bus?
OK, I'm not naive. Romanians have a reputation for certain types of crime. A friend of mine saw her life's work wiped out in a 3am raid on her home by a group who had been living rough in the trees at the end of her garden, watching her movements and waiting for the right moment to pounce.
Every nationality has its villains and rogues. The refusal to confront that fact, for fear of being seen as racist, condemned too many children to sexual abuse at the hands of Pakistani gangs. It is important to acknowledge such un-pc realities - but they need to be put in perspective and not used to define an entire nation, with 'most are law-abiding' added as an afterthought.A very few Pakistanis are rapists, a very few Muslims are terrorists, a very few Romanians are pick-pockets. Our national speciality seems to be white-collar fraud. We may also care to remember that so many British robbers and thieves set up camp on the Costa del Sol that it became known as the Costa del Crime.
We have police forces to recognise crime trends, to take appropriate action and bring offenders to justice. Some may be worried about the open border - tomorrow's Daily Star tells us that the Staffordshire police commissioner wants an urgent meeting with Theresa May - but who are the 'police experts' the paper says are predicting a 'fresh wave of crime' as the country already struggles with an influx of foreign crooks? None is quoted.
"Shock figures revealed that the eastern Europeans already topped the crime league tables before Britain opened its borders to millions from the two countries today.
Almost 1,000 Romanians were detained by police in just one county alone over the past three years...
It comes after the Metropolitan Police revealed Romanians are the second most arrested foreigners in London."
Ah, right. Arrests. Not convictions or even charges. But never matter, we all know that if you've been collared by the cops you must be guilty. But when did the Met do this revealing? And we're all dying to know who came top.
Well, the Telegraph and the Voice of Russia reported that 'second-most arrested' line last February, when the 'top ten' was published under a Freedom of Information request. Polish people were at the top, but we've learnt to love them and even a year ago we were spreading doom about tomorrow's expected influx.
In tomorrow's paper the Star quotes Conservative MP Philip Hollobone (he of the ban-the-burka and bring-back national service Bills) who says
"We are importing a wave of crime... Romanians account for 11% of all foreign offenders despite making up, at the moment, just a tiny portion of residents."
A tiny portion - but aren't the Romanians to blame for the strains on our public services and welfare state? Well they surely will be when the Star's 'millions' start arriving.
The Star also repeats a Bulgarian travel agent's assertion that all routes to Britain are fully-booked until next Thursday. The Mail and the Telegraph have been telling us that all week, that budget airlines have put on extra planes and that tickets are 'changing hands for £3,000'.
None of these papers gives a source for the claim or tells us which airlines are putting on extra planes or how many flights there are usually.
Odd that. A quick Google reveals that I can fly direct from Bucharest or Sofia tomorrow to a choice of cities, including London and Manchester, for about £150. If I am more flexible on dates, EasyJet will bring me into Gatwick for £38.
UCL's migration research centre has meanwhile said that bookings for between now and March are actually lower than for the same three months of this year.
But if our unwanted guests have lots of luggage, they won't want to fly. They'll have to take the bus. The Sun's passengers apparently paid 75 euros. Again the papers offer no details on how many of these 'fully-booked' buses there are. The best they could do was to say that 16 buses are scheduled to leave Sofia this month - which, if full, would accommodate about 800 people - and that a further 300 people were flying out of Bulgaria.
The Romanian freelance journalist Calin Cosmaciuc took himself to Bucharest bus station yesterday and reported hundreds of people milling around waiting to leave the country. They were bound for Germany, Luxemburg and The Netherlands. There was no bus to Britain, but he writes that there are 'usually two or three' to this country.
There have been enough surveys and studies on immigration to keep the Express in splashes for a year and over the weekend the Mail and the Star did their best to add to the hysteria with their interpretation of a 'hush-hush' report from Reading University.
The 40-page document was commissioned by the South East Strategic Partnership for Migration, a group of seventy-odd councils whose work is financed by the Home Office. It was naturally concerned only with the possible effects on this particular corner of England of the loosening of controls on 'A2' immigration. (A2=Romania and Bulgaria; A8=the clutch of countries allowed full employment rights on joining the EU in 2007.)
The result was not particularly enlightening. For example, the report says that greater employment opportunities and higher wages may attract migrants to the area, but that higher living costs might put them off. Insight.
Many councils are worried about Gypsies, it says, but beyond commenting that Roma communities adjust to discrimination and racism across Europe, the report is unwilling to offer comfort or concern:
"Given that key data sources that this report draws on do not include information to separated out such migrants, no attempt has been made specifically to address Roma migration."Nor are the report's authors willing to guess how many people will want to come to Britain:
"No attempt is made to specifically estimate the number of A2 nationals that will arrive following the lifting of transitional arrangements."They point out that Britain was once the fourth most popular destination for Romanian and Bulgarian emigrants, and that it is now second to Germany. They also say that our economic recovery and falling unemployment rate may make Britain more attractive and that any new migrants might choose to settle in or near East Anglia, where their compatriots have found employment as seasonal farm workers for the past seven years. Most of us could have worked that out.
More interesting is the nugget that between 2000 and 2012, one Romanian or Bulgarian left Britain for every two who arrived. So however many turn up, there will not necessarily be a commensurate increase in net migration.
On public services, the report expects that to be limited impact other than to put more pressure on areas that are already under strain. In other words, if a few more people need a bed in a hospital or a place in a school that cannot cope with existing demand, it's going to be trickier. Well who knew?
The Reading team does say that if the experience of earlier Eastern European immigration is repeated, we may see more less-skilled immigrants arriving. The team suggests that the extra workers should bring in more tax revenue and that they may fill jobs that people already in the country don't want. There is, the report says, little evidence that Eastern Europeans have reduced employment levels among native UK residents - in other words they are not 'coming over here and taking our jobs'.
There is, however, a possibility that the arrival of low-skilled Bulgarians and Romanians may bring greater competition with lower-skilled migrants from elsewhere. This could drive some earlier migrants out or negatively affect social cohesion. The report also says:
"In a worst case scenario where A2 migrants were to replace A8 or other temporary migrants at lower wages (worst case) there could be a net income loss."Note the double caveat of worst case there. The whole section on public services is also prefaced with the statement that the authors have found some evidence of an increase in low-skilled migration but cannot draw firm conclusions. They say that socio-economic change is a key issue for councils in the South East, but emphasises:
"The below points are speculative and raised as points to be considered in planning."They are not predicting that Romanians are going to drive out the Poles or work for next to nothing. They are saying 'these are things that might happen in a certain set of circumstances, so you may want to think about them'.
Interesting, then, that yesterday's Star chose to interpret the report thus:
The splash headline is based on the phrase 'negatively affect social cohesion', and it is paraphrased in the red 'Crime' box inside:
"Undercutting of the existing lower-skilled jobs of migrants already in Britain could result in a 'breakdown in social cohesion', says the study. That means the threat of violence on the streets between ethnic groups. But it could be avoided if Poles decide to move back home rather than join the dole queue."
Even worse is the box marked Numbers:
"No figures are given in the new report...but it warns that job prospects may mean more come here than the 50,000 or so previously expected."Expected by whom? Nobody in authority is willing to guess how many may wish to settle here and - as even the Star admits - the Reading researchers are certainly not laying any bets.
The Star was only following where the Mail on Sunday had led the day before, with this splash:
Again, we have the emphasis on this being a secret report that 'warns of impact on jobs, schools, hospitals'. Except that, as we've seen, it doesn't.
And there's more inside. In this case, the information from the report is all there. It's just presented in such a prejudicial manner. The box on Schools and Hospitals, for example, highlights the sentence 'Local authorities are concerned about the impact that additional migrant residents may have on school places, health provision, A&E and other services'.
Of course they are. It's their job to provide such services. But the report simply notes the concern. Then the papers note the report noting the councils' concern. Then the readers become concerned because the paper and the report have noted the councils' concern. It's a circle going nowhere. It is meaningless without some idea of how many people may be involved - and no one has a clue about that.
The highlighted sentence in the Claiming Welfare box reads: 'A change in the profile of A2s arriving may well result in increases in welfare payments.' The bit that isn't highlighted points out that 13% of Bulgarian migrants and 16% of Romanians claim benefits 'but these are both very low compared to the UK population (40%).'
That little numbers box bottom left is also problematical. But at least it cites the pressure group MigrationWatch as the source of the prediction that 50,000 A2 immigrants will come to Britain every year after tomorrow. And what about those million Poles 'thought by some experts to be in the UK'? Who and where are these experts?
To the Mail's credit, it does, however, run the full Reading report online and here is the link to the PDF.
We know about the Mail and the Sun and the Express and the Telegraph and the political Right's agenda. The Coalition is at odds over immigration. The Tories are scared witless by Nigel Farage and Ukip, which is in turn alarmed about its leader offering a hand of friendship to a few displaced Syrians. It's a game of Who can be the Most Horrible?
But it isn't a game.
Nobody, from the Government to that chap down the road, is treating the issue of immigration rationally or debating it intelligently. Yes, we are a crowded island. No, none of us (other than John Prescott) wants to see the countryside concreted over. But how can we ever address the question properly until the mainstream Press does its job and reports the truth rather than random 'facts' which are presented to further a particular agenda?
UCL's migration specialists produced a report last month on the financial impact on the country of all immigration from 1995 to 2011. For the Guardian and the FT the incomers were a £25bn boon, in the Mail, they left a £100bn black hole. It all depended on how far back you went through the statistics and which group of immigrants you focused on.
So here SubScribe is going to cherrypick a few statistics of her own that you may not have read elsewhere and that you may find interesting.
- In 2011, the UK population stood at 61,353,750, of whom 52,360,031 were 'natives', 2,847,289 were from the European Economic Area (the EU states plus Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway) and 6,146,430 were from outside that area.
- More than 60% of EEA immigrants who arrived in Britain after 2000 were in work in 2011. That compares with 48% of the 'native' population, 41% of non-EEA immigrants and 46% of all immigrants since 1995.
- In the ten years to 2011, migrants were 45% less likely than 'natives' to receive benefits and 3% less likely to live in public housing.
- 31% of immigrants from the EEA between 2000 and 2011 have university degrees, compared with 21% for the host poulation.
- People who have immigrated from the EEA since 2000 have contributed 34% more in taxes than they have received in benefits
- 'Natives' contribute 11% less in taxes than they receive in benefits. (Source: UCL)
- Britain is home to 500,000 Poles and 300,000 Germans.
- Nearly 400,000 Britons live in Spain, a quarter of them pensioners; 150,000 live in France, 100,000 in Germany and 30,000 in Italy. (Source: ONS)
- The Daily Mail reported last year that 120,000 Romanians and Bulgarians had migrated to Britain since their countries joined the EU in 2007.
- The Office for National Statistics said that net migration from Romania from 2000 to 2011 was 32,000 and from Bulgaria 15,000.
- Half of Romanians and Bulgarians who have come to the UK are self-employed.
- 'Non-active' immigrants who do not contribute to the economy through taxes account for between 0.7% and 1.1% of NHS expenditure - around £1bn per year.
- More than two thirds of non-active EU migrants are pensioners, students or job-seekers. (Source UCL)
- The UK granted 152,139 work visas and 216,895 student visas to people from outside the EU last year and 19,916 special visas to Romanians and Bulgarians (self-employed workers do not need visas).
- A further 284,902 immigrants from outside the EU were granted extensions, 198,952 became citizens and 152,185 were allowed to stay permanently. Just under 60,000 were refused entry or permission to stay.
- 141,000 British citizens emigrated last year, while 77,000 returned home; 183,000 EU migrants arrived and 78,000 left. (Source: Public Administration Select Committee)
- Britain is home to 500,000 Poles and 300,000 Germans.
- Nearly 400,000 Britons live in Spain, a quarter of them pensioners; 150,000 live in France, 100,000 in Germany and 30,000 in Italy. (Source: The Guardian)
- Britain is not the only country lifting restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians tomorrow. Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Luxemburg, Malta, Spain and The Netherlands are doing the same. (Source: EU)
- Anyone from within the EU is entitled to come to Britain for three months, but after that has to show that they have work or the money not to be a burden on the state. They can be expelled or face criminal action for fraud or benefits abuse. Under new rules they may also be deported and banned from returning for a year for sleeping in the streets or begging. (Source PASC)
- More than 100 British organised crime bosses have been ordered to hand over nearly £600m that they have salted away in Europe. (Source: London Evening Standard)
Suddenly that lot at the top don't look so bad, do they? And remember, they may not even want to come here.
Happy new year.
A new SubScribe website with archived blogposts and new features is being prepared and should be ready to make its first appearance early in the new year. If you have any ideas of elements that should be included - or avoided - please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or email. Thank you.