Socialist Worker

Ten myths about immigration

Radical geographer Danny Dorling debunks the notion that migrants are a strain on the country’s resources

Issue No. 2168

I can remember July 1978 very clearly. I was ten years old, and I got my first kicking in a subway. It was a shock – he hit me pretty hard. And I didn’t know why.

We were a mixed race family, the only one on the estate. The Nazi National Front were on the rise and skinheads came into school.

An election was on the way. The Tories ran a nasty campaign. They played the race card and they won.

I’m worried we’re going back to those days. We’ve just had the British National Party (BNP) winning seats in the European parliament and it looks like things are going to get worse.

That’s why it’s important that we tackle the myths about immigration that the far right can use to whip up racism and violence.

Here are ten myths that we come up against when we talk about immigration.

1 - People who deserve houses don’t get them.

There has never been as much housing in Britain as we have now. There are two bedrooms for every person who needs to sleep in this country.

You could even argue that we don’t need a mass house building scheme as the space is already there.

The real problem is that the rich have got huge houses – and second and third houses – because housing is distributed according to what people can afford, not what they need.

If you are poor there are unlikely to be many second homes near where you live, and where you live will be more crowded.

The very rich are converting previously subdivided houses back into their original grand sizes, reducing the stock of housing for everyone else.

2 - Immigration puts a strain on health services

In fact, immigration massively boosts the number of health workers in this country. Take one example – Malawi. There are more nurses in Manchester from Malawi than there are nurses in Malawi itself.

New points based rules on immigration are so stupid. For people to be allowed in, immigration officials ask for everything from bank statements to exam results.

We don’t need to ration healthcare – we can treat everyone and have the facilities to do so.

3 - My child will be the only white child in school

There are few places where that is the case. London is the most mixed city in the world, yet most groups of migrants make up only 2 percent of the population.

You’re far more likely to find schools where there is a lone black child, especially in small villages.

But there has been a shift in that too, with more working class people moving to villages and making them more mixed as a result. I think the solution is for all kids to go to their local school and mix.

4 - Schools are becoming more segregated.

In fact, studies show that schools are not becoming more segregated at all.

They are slightly more segregated than the communities they are in, on average, but they are not becoming more so. Meanwhile, the communities are becoming less segregated, not more.

5 - There is a choice between multiculturalism and ‘Britishness’

We should ask: what’s so special about Britain? We are the most unequal country in western Europe – we have half of the credit card debt for western Europe and the lowest life expectancy.

But at the same time we’re more multicultural than anywhere else in the region.

Racism and immigration only become such a big issue in the most unequal societies. In the US race is a very big issue because it is such an unequal country – people notice differences more.

In countries such as Iceland and Japan, racial differences are noticed less. These are the most equal in the OECD – they have the lowest income differences.

We need to recognise where we are and what we’ve come from. It’s wealth inequality that helps foster racism and anti-immigrant attitudes. At the end of the day, we’re all migrants.

6 - Migrants are coming to our towns and ‘taking our jobs’

We’d be much worse off if migrants weren’t coming to our towns. Migrants make a massive contribution to communities.

Before the economic crash, the number of migrants coming to Britain roughly balanced with the number leaving Britain to live and work elsewhere.

There are 10-14 million people who live here that were not born here – and there are 10-14 million people born here who no longer live here. People come and go at a high rate.

Migrants don’t stay in a country when there are few jobs. They are proactive, and if they find there is no work and rubbish weather they are likely to go somewhere else. But the figures always focus on how many are arriving, rather than how many are leaving.

7 - Communities are being divided by immigration

People are divided in all sorts of ways – according to our income, and what kinds of jobs we have, for example – and that separation is getting worse. But separation by race and colour is decreasing.

There is a worry that people of the Muslim faith do not mix. But greater proportions of Muslims are marrying non-Muslims in Britain than Christians are marrying outside their group.

8 - Immigrants don’t speak English – they’re holding themselves back

The government says that everyone should speak English, yet it has cut funding for English classes.

It says we should speak foreign languages but has stopped compulsory courses at GCSE.

Most people in the world can speak two languages, but not us.

There are plans for cuts in translation services. The impact this would have is terrifying.

Imagine how scary it would be to not be able to understand what’s going on while you’re giving birth, or in a courtroom.

9 - Towns are suffering from ‘white flight’

People will always move around as they start earning more, their family grows and so on. People have been moving out of the inner cities for a long time. The housing just isn’t big enough for children.

A few inner city areas are more Asian than white. The Asian population is still very young, so the population isn’t going down as people die.

The white population in the north of England is falling as it is an old population. At the same time there is a certain amount of white immigration – people are still coming in. All that is happening is the same as the Irish and Jewish immigration last century.

Over time people get used to each other, unless there is continued racism or discrimination that keeps some people in the worst areas.

Where inequality is allowed to be high and rise, racism follows.

10 - Migrants are bad for communities

A hundred years ago, one of the most popular places in the world to migrate to was the Welsh Valleys.

People there complained about all the immigrants turning up in the ­valleys – 30,000 in ten years.

Then, crash – decade after decade, people left. No one complains about immigration now in the Welsh Valleys. Now it’s people leaving that is the issue.

Thinking that your neighbours are your problem is a distraction from looking out at who really has what you don’t have.

It is the rich who have segregated themselves more over time to get away from the poor.

Meanwhile the poor are afraid of immigrants – and immigrants are afraid of prejudice. All this fear creates more fear, problems and anger.

Yet everyone in the world could have what would be seen by the majority as a comfortable standard of living.

There are enough schools, houses, jobs, services and education out there for everyone.

It’s not immigration that is the problem – it’s a system that puts profit before people and forces us to compete for our basic needs.

Danny Dorling is a professor of geography at Sheffield University. A recording of his meeting “Ten Reasons Why Migrants Aren’t to Blame”, delivered at the Marxism 2009 festival, is available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. Call 020 7637 1848 or go to »

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