As commentators have noted, Brexit campaigners are ramping up their focus on immigration as the key debate in the referendum. Pushback from the left has been largely cloth-eared, and unsuccessful. In my extended circle of friends and family, there are also people keen to leave the EU because they are worried about immigration. Dismissals and statistics are not going to convince anyone who feels exploited and exhausted by contemporary UK life that they are wrong to be angry about immigration.
We are witnessing the result of years of scaremongering and scapegoating, led by the Conservative Party and other right-wing elements in the UK–tactics that have not been effectively challenged by the Labour Party. People in the UK are absolutely right to be angry that life has become increasingly painful, difficult and expensive; that those who are not rich are being squeezed and hung out to dry. The public has been actively misled, however, and encouraged to blame “immigrants” for social outcomes that were not only caused by, but were always intended by policymakers.
The question to ask those concerned about immigration-now, but also long after the referendum has passed-is this: What are you worried about, and who really is to blame? What would improve if we closed our borders?
The NHS is “overstretched” because the government does not believe in supporting comprehensive healthcare that is free to all. The Health Secretary has publicly stated that he is pro-privatisation. People working in healthcare have actively protested against government policies to that end.
The NHS is not overstretched because they are coming here, and taking our healthcare. If we shut our borders, the government will continue to privatize the NHS.
Wages are down and jobs are increasingly precarious because the government is actively trying to undermine Unions, refuses to pay a living wage*, and prefers to protect business-owners interests over workers rights. Amazon gets tax breaks–its employees get zero-hour contracts, and that is sanctioned by our government.
Wages are not down because they are coming here, and taking our jobs. If we shut our borders, the government will continue to protect the interests of business owners over workers.
Benefits are being cut because the government does not believe in a robust welfare state. Cuts to disability allowance, Job Seekers allowance, means-testing (carried out by for-profit companies), punishments for missing appointments etc. These are policies that the pro-austerity government has introduced, and which function to keep the poor, poor.
Benefits are not being cut because they are coming here, and taking our benefits. If we shut our borders, the government will continue to dismantle the welfare state.
Budgets for libraries, galleries, museums, youth clubs, parks etc. are being cut because the government is pro-austerity, and pro-privatization. The government does not believe in social welfare.
Budgets are not being cut because they are coming here, and taking advantage of our public amenities. If we shut our borders, the government will continue to cut public spending, in particular in low-income areas.
Public housing stock has greatly reduced, and people are being forced to live far away from where they grew up, or from where they want to live, because the government has backed private developers and sold-off publicly owned land without spending on renewed accessible housing stock. The government believes that you should buy your own house – and be taxed if you have a spare bedroom, but not if you live in a mansion.
Public housing stock is not down because they are coming here and taking our homes. If we shut our borders, the government will continue to favour private ownership – and the international super-rich will continue to “invest” their wealth in empty properties in London.
Universities are becoming increasingly expensive and elite because the government is elitist, and does not believe that education should be free and accessible to all.
University fees are not being raised because they are coming here and taking advantage of our education – in fact, fees going up in particular for international students, who pay double, or triple home fees in order to study in the UK. If we shut our borders, Universities will collapse – or rise fees further for home students.
This list could go on… We have every reason to be angry about the state of the UK. We must direct our anger in the right direction.