David Cameron's speech about cracking down on immigrants' use of benefits, the NHS and social housing, and his proposals to curb immigrants' access to them, was a slap in the face for immigrants in the UK. The immigrants David Cameron and his supporters picture are shadowy caricatures: faceless benefits and health tourists, living comfortably on handouts, stealing from everyone else, cheating the system. It reminds me of caricatures of lback people with enormous lips, warped mouths, monkey-like heads: it's ugly and sad, and wrong.
And it's a lie. If you look for immigrants, you won't find us sitting on the sofa in the local mansion, on the phone to our relatives as we work out how to claim yet another benefit. You'll find us working early cleaning leisure centres and tube stations, working late in fish and chip shops, McDonalds and strip clubs, working in the afternoons in factories and schools, on farms and building sites. Most of it is service work, the kind of jobs you don't notice people doing, with low pay and long hours, poor conditions and little career progression. Immigrants are invisible, working hard and late for low pay, stigmatised and hated. Lots of hard work, for very little reward: that's most immigrants' experience of their own lives and of the lives of others in their communities.
The facts back this up. Two million immigrants have come to the UK from the eight Eastern European countries which joined the EU in 2004. Of those, only 13,000 have claimed Jobseeker's Allowance. Those who have been on benefits haven't stayed on them for long: the average time on Jobseeker's Allowance is a mere thirteen weeks. And the cost of benefits is nothing compared to the five billion pounds that these immigrants have added to the economy.
Immigrants don't get much of reward themselves. They cycle home six miles from a late shift at minimum wage because they can't afford the bus, risking their life because they can't afford lights on their bike; scrimp and save to send money home or look after elderly relatives or young children; or live in a small flat above a fish and chip shop, managing a business and looking after four children. Something for nothing? More like a lot of back breaking work for next to nothing. But immigrants are grateful for any opportunity to work - many don't have much opportunity in their home countries.
It's just insulting being told that immigrants get something for nothing by David Cameron. Cameron's rich, well connected family gave him a lot of unearned advantages. Immigrants from poor countries, arriving here with nothing, have to work twice as hard for the things normal people take for granted; they can only dream of the privilege Cameron enjoys. Something for nothing? Most immigrants were never given anything.
David Cameron's speech, and his new policies - if they are even implemented - won't help any British people; they'll just result in useless spending on measures to catch cheats that don't exist. What they will do, of course, is harm immigrants. They will mean more kids telling you to go back to your own country at school, more kids refusing to talk to or sit next to the foreigners in their class, more kids who see hatred justified and celebrated. They will mean more racist attacks, more immigrants beaten up, spat at, racially abused; more immigrants stabbed or beaten to death.
But perhaps what's most disappointing about Cameron's speech isn't that it will potentially increase racism against immigrants, or that it is full of lies about us. In fact, his speech told a deeper kind of lie: that poverty, unemployment and inadequate public services are immigrants' fault, and that tackling immigration is the way to tackle those things. This is a very convenient lie for politicians who don't really want to reduce poverty: it means that they can pretend to care about working class people, while not implementing any policies that will really improve their lives. David Cameron is increasing taxes, curbing pay, failing to create jobs, cutting public services, firing public sector workers and cutting tax credits and benefits; within two years, the majority of British children will be living below the breadline.
What we really want is to end poverty - but we won't do that by attacking immigrants, who contribute far more to Britain's economy than they take from it. All anti-immigrant racism does is divide us, so we spend our time attacking others who have even less than we do, rather than working out how to solve the problems we all face.
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