Led by Nigel Farage and Ukip, the British public have been led to believe that our country is the victim of a devastating tidal wave of EU immigrants. Crime levels have gone through the roof, public services are close to collapse, our jobs are in danger, 'British values' are all but gone and the M4 westbound is permanently gridlocked.
I am from a small town in South Wales where 10,000 Poles moved to in 2006 and I currently live in Ealing, which has the second highest Polish population outside Poland. I can assure you that in these places, immigration has had a positive impact. They have reduced crime levels, kept public services afloat, filled jobs that locals do not want, provided highly skilled tradesmen and enriched the community. But if you don't believe me, take a look at the facts.
1. Reduced crime - Research by the London School of Economics demonstrated that the inflow of immigrants from 2004 had no impact on crime levels in the areas they settled and property crime actually fell. Immigrants, they argue, leave their families and communities to better their lives - to work and to build a future for their families. Crime is not conducive to that lifestyle.
2. Better public services - A recent NHS staff survey demonstrated that over 10% of employees come from outside of the UK, a large proportion of whom are from EU countries. According to the British Medical Association, "many NHS services would struggle to provide effective care to their patients" without immigrants. So imagine the state of A&E without their help.
As end-users, the pressure on the NHS is negligible and in fact EU freedom of movement has relieved it. Unlike the 100s of thousands of retired Brits living in Spain, most EU immigrants are young, fit and healthy. They also make a massive net contribution to the economy (£20 billion from 2000-2011) meaning that the government can better fund these services.
3. Job creators - A common gripe against immigrants is that they are taking British jobs. This is a misconception known as 'fixed labour fallacy' - the incorrect belief that there are a fixed number of jobs in the economy. In reality, more people create more demand, provide more resources and create more jobs. From 2004, although UK unemployment rose in line with immigration numbers, the number of available jobs also rose.
UK unemployment is nothing to do with immigration - it is driven by a lack of skilled workers, automation of low-skilled jobs, a low minimum wage and inequality. Immigrants tend to fill jobs that Brits don't want, particularly low paid jobs in the service sector. Catering companies across the country say they would fail to function if it wasn't for immigrants and many advertise abroad for this reason. Skilled immigrants also provide much-needed competition for a demand-heavy skilled trade market (plumbers, electricians etc.).
4. British Values - When presented with hard evidence, the immigrant-bashers often bring out the emotion-driven 'British Values' argument. I don't really know what 'British Values' are or how it's possible for such a diverse, unequal country to share the same qualities. But assuming we are talking about democracy, freedom of expression and inclusiveness, I have good news. I've spent a lot of time in EU countries (particularly Poland) and I am delighted to confirm that they have these values too. They are welcoming and respectful, believe in democracy and value freedom of speech. In Poland, they have a saying 'Gosc w dom, Bog w dom; which means "a guest in the house is the same as God in the house". And that's exactly how they treat you.
5. The M4 Westbound - As someone who has lived both ends of the M4, I can assure you that its traffic levels have not changed very much in the last 10 years.
Nigel Farage's claim that the M4 is congested because of immigration, may sound like one of his most outrageous, but it's no more far-fetched than any of the others. In fact, his tendency to blame immigrants for just about anything that goes wrong, is extremely dangerous. Creating scapegoats has precedent, with dire consequences, throughout history. It creates an atmosphere of fear, hate and bigotry, especially in times of economic uncertainty. It also detracts from the real issues such as low wages and inequality. This is, of course, all part of the UKIP plan. The EU will never agree to limiting free movement, and so UKIP know that convincing the population that immigrants are the source of all our problems, is the only way of achieving a disastrous exit from the EU. They also know that if the conversation switches to the economy, inequality or the NHS, they will become less and less relevant.
It's important for those of us who know the facts not to let UKIP's propaganda take hold. Together, we need to communicate that immigration from the EU has brought tremendous benefits to this country. And long may it continue!