THE BLOG

The Immigration Debate

06/11/2014 17:06 GMT | Updated 06/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Every couple of years immigration becomes a hot topic. Right now it feels like it's the only thing in the news. When I download a paper, listen to the radio or turn on the TV, all the major stories are about or are linked to the contentious movement of people around the world especially to the UK.

My usual view is 'here we go again, I've heard it all before'. You've got the defence secretary Michael Fallon saying British towns are being 'swamped' with migrants and then former home secretary David Blunkett getting involved and praising these comments. If you wanna have a debate on the issue, fine. Personally, I think it's a distraction from the real problems we face in the UK like tackling inequality, dealing with rising property prices and reinvigorating our education system for starters, but hey what do I know? Ok, I get it, the fastest way to make headlines is by coming out with a provocative statement; but, are we really being overwhelmed by an influx of immigrants? I'm not a statistician, I don't know all the figures on who's coming into the UK. What I do know is that Mr Fallon and Mr Blunkett are just stoking unnecessary fires.

Ipsos Mori's latest survey reveals that British people think that on average immigrants make up 24.4% of the population - actually the figure is 13%. So what is going on here? Do we all need to take a trip to Specsavers, or cut down on the shandies, because everyone seems to be seeing double. I wish my bank was as generous when sending my monthly statements, and doubled my savings...

Seriously though, these misconceptions are very scary because government policies are based on the views of voters. As someone who has grown up with a disability, I've had to deal with peoples mistaken notions all my life. So when so many of us in the UK make aberrations on an important issue like immigration I get very worried.

Last week the Foreign Office said the UK will stop supporting future search and rescue operations, which are preventing migrants en route to Italy from Africa from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. I guess the worry is the survivors will head to Britain. This year, 3000 migrants drowned trying to make that crossing. Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay believes this is one of the ways to stop refugees and migrants from making the crossing as well as focussing our attention on the countries of origin. My question is: why can't we do both? It will cost more, but surely in the long run it will payoff?

Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren says the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War: "People fleeing atrocities won't stop coming if we stop throwing them life rings. Boarding a rickety boat in Libya will remain a rational decision if you're running for your life and your country is in flames."

Migration is a fact of life. Humans have moved around the world for hundreds of thousands of years. It's hard to blame someone for wanting to improve his or her circumstances. My parents made the same decision when they realised I had polio. After he came to London my father never saw his parents again. My mum and dad made huge sacrifices for which I will always be grateful.

There'll be towns in the UK where the number of immigrants has gone up, and naturally this means there's more competition for work. I think it's too simplistic to blame this on outsiders moving to Britain. We have to look at our government's foreign policy - are we doing enough to help these countries? People will say we have lots of our own problems to sort out but the unavoidable truth is that the world is becoming more and more connected. Our economies are linked, we share resources and people will always move to where they feel they have the best chances of survival. If my neighbour's house were on fire, I would do whatever I could to help them. Once the house was rebuilt I'd also make sure they got smoke detectors fitted, as not only do I want them to be ok but I'm also well aware that what happens to them can affect me, because whether we like it or not we're all connected.