On Thursday 29 September, BBC Question Time from Boston, Lincolnshire tackled the issue of immigration. The question from the audience was: “Is Jeremy Corbyn out of touch with communities like Boston on the subject of unlimited immigration?” Panellist and author Bonnie Greer answered, and her response showed exactly why Corbyn’s stance is correct.
Greer said: “I’m not a politician, and I’m the only immigrant on this panel, so I’m not going to come up with any policy stuff.” She then made several statements regarding her thoughts on immigration. But how much of what she said is true?
Lincolnshire: left on its own
This town, and maybe this region, has been left on its own… And I think it has to do with both parties, or maybe three.
- North East Lincolnshire was the 15th most deprived local authority in the country in 2015, up four percentage points and 11 places on 2010 figures. It has some of the highest poverty rates in England.
- Lincolnshire as a whole was ranked 90 out of 152 local authorities for deprivation. But 29 areas in the county were in the most deprived 10%, equating to around 50,000 people.
- In 2014, Lincolnshire was named the 4th poorest region in Europe, based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head.
- The county ranked in the bottom half of England for housing poverty. This relates to affordability, access to local services and homelessness.
- The county was in the lower halves for crime, employment, health and income.
- Boston, where Question Time was filmed, was in the top third for health deprivation, top fifth for overall deprivation and has the 4th highest levels of educational deprivation in England.
The two maps below go some way to explaining why people in Lincolnshire may feel they have been left on their own. On the whole, the most deprived areas tend to be the most urban. The least deprived are rural villages. And there is a distinct difference between east and west. As with much of the UK, there is an issue with inequality in Lincolnshire. [The first map shows areas of population, grey being “urban”. The second shows levels of deprivation, blue being the most deprived.]
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We’re all getting older
We live in an ageing society… There’s an economic argument for immigration. You need folks in here, because the country is getting older.
- The population aged 65 and over has increased by more than 47% in the past thirty years; those over 75 by 89%. ‘Pensioners’ now make up nearly 20% of the population.
- The birth rate in England has started to decline again.
- Around a third of children born in 2012 are expected to live until they are 100.
- There are more people aged 65 and over in the UK than there are 16-year-olds.
- A 61% rise in the number of over 65s is expected by 2032.
- The government forecasts that, by 2022, the number of people aged 16-50 will have dropped by 700,000.
A government report discussed ways of getting people to work longer, due to an ageing population. Couple this with the state pension age being forecast to hit 70 by 2040, and the term ‘work ’til you drop’ takes on a new meaning.
Greer also said there was an “economic argument” for immigration, and the government’s own advisors agree. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) warned in March that, if we cut immigration, either taxes would have to be raised or more cuts to public services would have to be made to compensate. As the OBR forecasts, higher immigration is actually good for public finances.
Lincolnshire: a microcosm of immigration and austerity the UK
The population in Lincolnshire has risen by 8.8% in the past decade; slightly above the national average. Forecasts show that, by 2032, the working age population (16-64) will not have changed. But the number of people aged 65-74 will have increased by 34%, and those over 75 by 101%.
According to the 2011 census, 7.1% of people in Lincolnshire were born outside the UK. This is well below the national average of 13.8%. But tellingly, Boston is the only place in the county where the number of foreign-born people is higher than the national average, sat at 15.1%.
In contrast to the increase in population, Lincolnshire County Council cut services by £30m between 2010-2015. And they’ll be cutting a further £130m in the next four years. The reason for the cuts? Government austerity, after public money bailed out the banks during the 2008 financial crash.
The problem in Lincolnshire is one of extremes. There are vast differences in population, wealth, poverty and deprivation across the county. And this is something that is the same across the UK. As I previously wrote at The Canary:
People are worried about immigration. But most people are not racist or xenophobic. What they are is concerned about their own families and the lives they lead. When they see the NHS struggling to cope, people going to food banks, families unable to get decent accommodation, or public services being cut, their natural reaction is to think ‘there’s not enough to go round as it is’. More people in the country means less for everyone else. That’s not racist. That’s common sense.
But what Greer was right to highlight is that, overall, we need migration. She was also right with her assertion that Boston had been “left on its own”. An increase in population with a decrease in funding doesn’t add up.
The argument Corbyn presents for unrestricted migration is one based on an increased funding of services, stopping exploitative employers using migrant workers to undercut wages, redistribution of wealth, and tackling inequality. Many of these are problems people face in Lincolnshire. If this was done, then migration, which the UK factually needs, would not be the challenge it is currently perceived to be. As Greer said about Boston in the US, people moved there because “they wanted to have a better life”. And if Corbyn’s plans are allowed to be meted out, then a better life could be a reality for everyone.
Watch Greer’s full answer:
— BBC Question Time (@bbcquestiontime) September 29, 2016
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