Cameron’s ‘Women and Children, First’ Plan is Evidence That the Tories Have No Clue How to Play Their Part in the Refugee Crisis

@DanielAdshead25

Since David Cameron announced that Syrian women and children would account for the majority of the 20,000 refugees to be admitted to the UK, over five years, for resettlement, I have expressed sombre alarm. The reason is straightforward and incontrovertibly valid.

This grave concern has not been adequately articulated by many elements of the mainstream media. Jennifer Saul has proffered an informed, and very eloquent, effort for the New Statesman, which succinctly delineates the dangers inherent in Cameron’s prioritising of women and children, in tandem with the insidious attitude toward Muslim foreigners that underpins it.

The experience of those granted asylum in the UK has been a mixed bag of fortune to say the least. On the one hand, many with asylum status in the UK have – through their talent, perseverance and ingenuity – been reborn with a stable and secure life in their adoptive home; a life rich in happiness, self worth and payment of taxes (to satisfy the any UKIP readers of this piece).

When these success stories occur, they do so in spite of state ‘support’, or lack thereof, rather than in conjunction with it. For example, in 2010 the British Medical Association’s ‘Refugee Doctors Database’ listed 1,297 UK asylum seeking and refugee doctors. Since it was shown, back in 2004, that a tiny percentage of these medically-trained refugees were in NHS employment, initiatives, such as Rose, have been brought in to retrain and assist refugee medical professionals, so that they can be absorbed into the NHS.

Currently, there are over 1200 doctors from refugee backgrounds in the UK. The government still has a long way to go in assimilating these individuals into the UK Health Service. According to the above report, only 15% (fewer than 200) of the refugee doctors living in the UK have been placed in a healthcare role. This represents a stark shortcoming in government policy, but where there has been success for those 200 who are engaged in the practice of medicine, their value is inestimable to a struggling NHS. And the NHS has provided a new lease of life for those 15% who can now support themselves, and their family, and enjoy the full rights and freedoms of a UK citizen.

The profligacy of the governments over the past 10+ years is impossible to overstate, especially when the asylum system in the UK quite often impedes access to employment for extended lengths of time. The UK asylum process is one that will only lead to a loss of confidence and ‘deskilling’ of many specially-trained asylum professionals, like those with life-saving skills mentioned above. There is no excuse for the government’s continued inertia, not when:

  1. The cost of retraining a refugee doctor (£25,000) is, approximately, one-fifth of the cost of training an adult in the UK from day one of medical school (£250,000). So it is cost-effective.

2. The need for trained medical professionals has never been higher with an ageing population and a Health Service bursting at the seams. With over 1000 refugee doctors frozen out from access into the NHS, it is time to empower local government to remedy the inaction and impediments surrounding this issue.

3. There is an opportunity to facilitate a rewarding integration process that will see asylum families achieve economic independence, together with a restoration of pride and dignity, and an increase in revenue to the Treasury.

The UK asylum system is fragmented and has been failing for some time. However, Scotland has shown signs of moving in the right direction with respect to those Syrians who are medically-trained refugees. However, nowhere does the system fail more than in its weak and inadequate support for women and children.

Financial support and accommodation provision for asylum seekers underwent some regressive changes last month and – like with the regressive tax credit cuts – those who are single parents (overwhelmingly women) and those families with children will be hit hardest.

Firstly, the changes have seen a significant reduction in asylum cash support, which is down to just £36.95 per person per week. If asylum is granted, then individuals are permitted to seek employment and access public services, including welfare. But the refugees are left uninformed of their rights, entitlements, and how they claim. During the period before a decision is made the government offers additional financial support to pregnant women, and those women who have a child under the age of three. This equates to £3 and £5 per week, respectively. Which is a pathetic token which offers little-to-no advantage on top of the standard weekly payment. Not when pregnant women and young children are particularly in need of good quality sustenance to ensure a healthy gestation and a advantageous start to a child’s life.

Prior to the allocation of permanent accommodation, refugees are housed in hostel-style accommodation (or ‘initial accommodation’) for an indeterminate ‘short-term basis’. This temporary living situation is normally the point when refugees make their applications for financial assistance, and they will often be moved into a permanent accommodation that is far from where they are initially situated. This unstable and itinerant beginning to a new life can often be very stressful and disorienting. Considering the physical and mental trauma that many refugees have suffered in their home countries before arriving in the UK, the UK asylum process is wholly insensitive to the well-being of asylum seekers. It is shown to be harmful to the psychological state of lone women and their children, but particularly distressing for pregnant women, as a joint report by the Refugee Council and Maternity found.

Permanent accommodation is decided on a ‘no choice’ policy foundation that actively exempts London and the South East from the duty of housing refugees. Housing is made available by ‘private providers contracted to provide the services on behalf of the Home Office’. The accommodation offered, therefore, is, unsurprisingly, hard to let properties in undesirable and run down urban areas that usually suffer from higher than average levels of unemployment and experience social tensions as a result. Already it is an intimidating, low prospect atmosphere for a refugee woman, with the £36 – graciously provided by the state – in her back pocket, and her children to survive in.

The government offers little additional support outside the meagre initial financial assistance, provided while a decision is being made on their application, that equates to less than half the amount of mainstream benefits that many UK citizens struggle to live on. (900,000 using food banks). Furthermore, with councils having to adapt and find efficiency savings following stringent cuts to their budgets, local authorities are mercilessly placed in an untenable position to try and sufficiently integrate asylum seekers into the community. The redirection of foreign aid money to local government to help settle the refugees will be of little consequence if it is only made available for the planned 12 months.

There is currently little assistance given to help refugee women access the labour market, improve their English language skills, or become better informed regarding their entitlements to healthcare, welfare and other public services. This isolation is not only stressful and frightening, but it is severely detrimental to the well-being of children as well as the women. A Children’s Society report found that roughly 10,000 refugee children were living well below the poverty line as a result of the state’s inadequate support, both financially and in terms of providing information and actively integrating new arrivals into their host communities.

The situation is compounded by two factors: one is the racial abuse that is often endured by asylum seekers, especially children in schools, and the disregard people in the communities have for their welfare and status. As I mentioned above, most refugees are housed in neglected urban areas that already suffer a lack of social cohesion and a high degree of popular resentment toward outsiders who are seen as a threat to their current standard of living; a widespread belief that is eagerly fomented by right wing demagogues who find support in such deprived areas.
Secondly, it has emerged that David Cameron wants to prioritise, specifically, disabled children, which places their mothers in an untenable position when it comes to trying to maintain their child’s full-time care needs while attempting to enter the labour market. The government is taking financial and social support AWAY from its own native disabled population, plunging them into further poverty and, increasingly, into a declining state of mental health as a result. So what hope does a Syrian refugee mother have of securing the required support for her disabled child? Many Britons have been forced to quit their jobs in order to care for severely disabled dependents due to budget cuts and inadequacies in home care and support provision. This places them into an economic hole from which they struggle to escape, as they rely on ever decreasing benefits to survive and care for their families. The situation will be much worse for a refugee who has no knowledge of her rights and entitlements and no way of sufficiently accessing any assistance that can be provided.

A 2013 Parliamentary Inquiry into the Asylum Support given to children and young people found that the asylum system in the UK is in desperate need of reform “if it is to have regard to the safety and well-being of children and meet its obligations to promote children’s best interests.” Shocking revelations in the report revealed instances where children were “left destitute and homeless, entirely without institutional support”. They became reliant on food parcels and charitable donations to survive. In some cases children made up to 20% of the the local destitute population.

The report also found that state financial support to a refugee family was not enough to meet children’s ‘essential living needs’. The financial aid does not take into account children’s needs to learn and develop, nor does it offer additional support for those families with a disabled child. Their education is, also, often disrupted by continued changes of accommodation.

David Cameron’s plan to take in 20,000, mainly women and children, refugees from the camps of the neighbouring countries surrounding Syria flies in the face of all the evidence regarding the particular vulnerability of women and children who arrive in the UK, cut off from their traditional support network of a husband, elder son or other male relative. The refugees in the camps of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt are not all of the educated middle class that we see wandering the terrain of Europe. They are less likely to speak English, especially the women, or have relatives and contacts in Europe to help their transition into life as a settled refugee.

Women and children from the camps in the Middle East will have to endure a likely very intimidating situation in the UK, where they will have little to know knowledge of how things work in the country, or of their rights and entitlements, due to the failings in the present asylum system. For a woman, who is already a sole full-time caregiver, it will be a momentous battle to achieve the skills (i.e. English as a spoken language), if she does not already possess them; the knowledge and confidence to enable her to achieve economic independence and escape a quick downward spiral into poverty, grief and mental health issues that a dilapidated and underfunded UK asylum process manages to expedite.

It is, therefore, paramount that coordinated plans are put in place to take in complete families (where possible), with a male and female head, in order to maintain the traditional support systems of many Syrian households. It is also crucial that the councils concerned been continuously endowed with extra funding, beyond the 12 month period currently outlined, to help resettle refugees. Networks of financial and informational support should be made available until decisions on individual asylum application are final, and an adult member of a family is engaged in work. From then on, councils and local institutions should remain on hand to provide any assistance, that may be required of them, relating to the rights and entitlements of the refugees in their care. It is essential to their continued integration that refugees are supplied with local knowledge and given local government support to engage in the community and take an active role in civil society.

@DanielAdshead25

Advertisements
Posted in asylum, Britain, European Union, Foreign Policy, Humanitarian, Humanitarianism, Refugee Crisis, Refugees, Syria, UK, UK politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Refugee Crisis Factsheet (A Brief Summary of The Blog Entry)

@DanielAdshead25

1. “We have thousands of homeless in Britain and nearly 1 million using food banks, let’s sort our own house first.”

This argument can be dismissed far better by the use of a satirical meme:

brilliant meme

But in all seriousness the domestic scene and the humanitarian crisis on the Continent are two wholly separate issues than can be tackled concurrently. “Charity begins at home” is an odious phrase that can be used in perpetuity, since the UK population is always going to express grievances with the current state of things within the country.

Helping you poor and vulnerable compatriots and assisting those overseas are not mutually exclusive.

2. “Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf States, are all rich countries and they are doing nothing to help. Why should we?”

This objection assumes that all Syrians are Muslims and therefore Islamic countries should be the ones to offer sanctuary. However, 10% of the population, in the Syrian Arab Republic, are Christians: approximately 2.3m people.

With the presence of ISIS and al-Nusra in Syria, Syrian Christians are especially vulnerable to persecution and violence.

Consider the option of fleeing to Saudi Arabia from a refugee’s perspective. Why would a family, or individual, fleeing war, terror and persecution wish to seek sanctuary under an autocratic, sometimes brutal, State sponsor of Islamist terrorism?

A nation that abuses its Kenyan and Asian migrant workers – circumstances that are not unique to Saudi Arabia, but endemic throughout the Gulf region. It doesn’t give the impression of a welcoming haven for refugees, and Syrians know it.

Also, with Jordan now closed to new Syrian refugees,  the only feasible land route to the Gulf States is through…Iraq. A nation afflicted by its own nasty war, and the destructive presence of ISIS, cannot offer safe transit through to Saudi Arabia. The Syrians who made it to Iraq before the conflict with ISIS emerged are now trapped in Iraqi Kurdistan.

From the outbreak of civil war, in 2011Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have contributed more to the International Red Cross (which is very much THE charity operating in the region and supporting Syrian refugees) than both France and Italy, combined. These two European economies are roughly double the size of the Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia, collectively. Until recently, Saudi Arabia was the largest donor to foreign, on a per capita basis, in the entire world, though this was predominantly to Muslim countries.

The UAE currently donates the most in foreign aid as a proportion of its GDP (1.17%). The UAE delivers aid through through many entities, but 80% of its foreign aid spending is through the state and this alone equates to over $4bn. 2015 is the second year running that the UAE has been at the top of the ‘foreign aid’ list. The reason you are not likely to see these figures is because the UAE, and most Gulf states, are not members of the DAC (Development Assistance Committee). A 28-member forum to discuss issues surrounding foreign and development. Most publications of international ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) includes only those countries who are members of DAC.

In 2013, Qatar donated over £500m in foreign aid. The country focuses on the Arab world and Syria has received a huge chunk of this funding (over £400m in 2013). The country is committed to investing in humanitarian concerns throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

The Gulf countries also donate through their membership of OPEC, as the OPEC Fund for International Development has become a significant donor to the Red Cross in the past two years. A comprehensive 2014 report on development aid provided by the UAE can be found here.

Wealthy Arabs also account for the sizeable private donations received by the IRC. Prince bin-Talal of Saudi Arabia has committed his $32bn fortune to charity over the course of several years. It is important to remember that one of the five pillars of Islam is ‘alms giving’: charity is a facet that underpins expression of the Islamic faith, much like it is in Christianity.

The President of the UAE, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyanm, has donated $460m, throughout his life, to humanitarian concerns from his own personal wealth. It is no surprise that the government of UAE is significantly oriented toward foreign aid and development.

This may also surprise many: There are 100,000 Syrians currently living in UAE. However, they do not show up as refugees living in the UAE on any UN agency report. This is because these Syrians have been given FULL residency visas and so do not have ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum’ status.

Arab leaders are sympathetic to the dire situation Syrians find themselves, and the news coverage is unending. They have further proven their concern for Syrian civilians by donating huge amounts of funding to humanitarian aid.

Kuwait is the third-largest donor ($300m) to the UN’s Syria Response Fund, for example.

In 2015, Kuwait has donated over $100m, second most after the US, to UNHCR efforts.

Ordinary citizens in Gulf nations have also expressed opinions that favour opening the door for more Syrian refugees. (the Arabic hashtag “Arab Conscience” has been trending on social media).

3. “Why are they travelling through multiple EU borders to get to their country of preference?”

A simple answer is that many refugees have family who reside in Europe and have likely helped finance their escape from Syria and the Middle East. These relatives can offer smooth transition in a foreign, with their local knowledge and economic independence.

Language is another reason. Having knowledge of your host country’s mother tongue will be beneficial when attempting to settle your family and build a life, either temporarily or permanently.

This consideration is the fundamental rationale as to why the UK attracts Eritreans and Syrians more than any other nationality that is listed by the UN as ‘persons of concern’.

A more complicated explanation takes account of previous attempts to claim asylum in European countries. The Balkan countries, and those of Central Europe, invariably have hostile attitudes toward the refugees: Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia express particular opposition to any influx of asylum seekers and have already opposed the EU’s attempts to introduce a refugee quota system.

Nations such as Hungary have a remarkably high propensity to reject asylum applications – usually for political reasons rather than on the merit of the applicant.

From a total number of 5,445 decisions made by the Hungarian government, in 2014, on granting asylum, 4,935 were rejected.

The UK rejected over 60% of applications in which it made a decision. This figure had been even higher in previous years before the unfair and controversial Detained Fast Track System was scrapped by the courts. Those who have their applications rejected face deportation. It, therefore, should come as no surprise that we are seeing many refugees eager to cross the northern frontiers of countries like Hungary in order to reach Austria and Germany – countries that have changed radically their policy toward refugees in 2015.

Why take all those risks and bankrupt yourself only to be turned away at the first opportunity?

800px-First_instance_decisions_on_(non-EU)_asylum_applications,_2014_(number,_rounded_figures)_YB15_IV

Fig.1 Asylum applications granted and rejected in the countries of Europe

4. “99% are economic migrants who want to come to England and claim benefits”.

Anyone would think that there has not been a devastating civil war raging in Syria for 4 and a half years; conflict in Iraq; violence in Afghanistan; repression and torture in Eritrea; and an ongoing war in the Darfur region of Sudan for over 12 years.

The vast majority of those seeking asylum in Europe come from seven countries whose nationals are all recognised by UNHCR as ‘persons of concern’.

Refugees making their way to EU countries are predominantly from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan. (40% are from Syria, alone). Eritreans and Syrians are two of the top three nationalities who are attempting to claim asylum in Britain. But yet their number is only in the low thousands.

Fig 2. Where Asylum Seekers to the UK originate from

There are 56 million people in the world who have been forcibly displaced and the UK is home to less than 0.5% of them.

Of the 14m who are refugees (i.e. those who are not internally displaced within their own country) the UK is still home to less than 1%.

The fact is the majority of refugees do not wish to claim asylum here, and this is a trend that is not unique to Syrians.

For example, of the nearly half a million who have fled violence in DR Congo over the course of its bloody civil war, just 118 applied for asylum in Britain, up to the year 2011.

In 2014, 1.66m asylum applications were made worldwide (an record high). The top 3 recipients were:

  • Russian Federation (274,000)
  • Germany (173,000)
  • USA (121,000)

The UK, on the other hand, received a total of 32,000 applications: fewer than Italy, France, Hungary and Sweden.

Therefore, the number of asylum applications made to Britain, equates to just 2% of all asylum applications made in 2014.

The number of asylum applications to Britain in 2015 – figures from January to June – has been less than 10,000: a figure that is fewer than in both Belgium and Austria (to add to the list of countries above).

Single countries in Asia accommodate many more Syrian or Afghan refugees than the entire continent of Europe:

Turkey (in its Asian territory) and Pakistan have, by far, the largest refugee populations in absolute terms (1.9m and 1.5m, respectively).

Lebanon and Jordan host the most refugees relative to the size of their populations.

In Lebanon more than 1 in 4 is a refugee, and the Za’atari camp in Jordan is now the country’s fourth largest city.

Iran, Ethiopia, Uganda, China, Chad and Kenya all have received more refugees (this is total refugees not just Syrians, of course), than the entire Continent of Europe.

Almost 60% of the world’s refugees (who are not IDPs) survive inside the countries mentioned above.

On the final point of refugees wishing only to claim benefits in England, a clear and succinct response is all that is needed to rubbish that claim.

First of all, 50% of all Syrian refugees are under 18 (an unprecedented proportion of a refugee population). Of those who are 18-59, most are educated and/or skilled and have worked throughout their lives.

The idea that they would make the long, perilous journey, where they are exploited by people traffickers and abused by unsympathetic countries and their populations, only to give up their autonomy and self worth so that they can sit on a sofa in Clacton all day and watch Jeremy Kyle, is absurd.

Not to mention the fact that these human beings come from a land where if you don’t work, you don’t eat. The presence of social security in their homeland is minimal if not non-existent and they have no knowledge of the British welfare state.

5. “But they have Smart phones and nice clothes, they can’t be that poor and needy”

Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise fleeing war and persecution was solely the inalienable right of the impoverished and those who are deficient in handheld technology.

Would it be fair if, during a time of civil war in your country, you were prohibited from fleeing because you own a phone and a pot to piss in?

The majority of adults who are able to leave Syria are educated and skilled, like this Syrian radiographer, and his bank employee wife, profiled by the BBC.

Those lower on the socioeconomic scale, who more accurately represent our media-fuelled notions of what a poor foreigner looks like, are the 7.5m who remain internally displaced within the utter hell of the civil war.

Furthermore, many refugees have financial help from family already settled in the West.

6. “Why don’t they stay in the camps in Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon where they are already safe?”

This is what many have been doing for a long time. It’s why it has taken over four years of war before the refugee crisis has manifested itself north of Greece.

The current refugees who are trekking along the motorways and country roads of Europe have not arrived fresh from Syria.

Fully intending to return as soon as a safe opportunity arises, they remained in their area of displacement (camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey) – as 86% of all displaced people in the world do – so that they could make their way back to their homes swiftly in order to rebuild their shattered lives.

However, the mood has changed in the camps of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Conditions within the camps are deteriorating rapidly. Many have been operating for nearly five years and the resources are under immense strain.

With growing instability and economic fragility creeping further every week, for all three countries, their capacity for generosity is in decline.

Lebanon is threatened by a renewed outbreak of civil war: social tensions are on the rise in a nation where over 1 in 4 is a refugee.

The refugees, themselves, are plunging further into poverty, and beginning to suffer from malnutrition and ill-health now that rations are depleted and medical supplies are becoming more scarce.

There are also family concerns over their children’s educations. For those who are not in school in Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan, the growing time in which they are out of education is going to have detrimental consequences on their future job opportunities and livelihoods. The refugees are looking toward alternatives.

In Jordan the situation is even worse. Like Lebanon it has closed its borders to more refugees as it faces uncertain times regarding its internal security and its economy.

The country is experiencing severe water shortages, and drops in aid support from the international community.

The refugees here are descending into abject poverty and forced to leave the camps and enter the surrounding urban areas to live in abandoned or dilapidated buildings with no running water or sanitation.

Two-third of refugees here are estimated to believing below the poverty line.

One third of refugee children are not enrolled in school in Jordan.

Of those who have been forced to relocate into the surrounding urban areas, half of the households have no heating and many have unreliable electricity supplies and no functioning toilet (which is particularly a problem for young girls and women).

It was recently reported that UNHCR had been dealt a 10% funding blow (only 37% of the necessary funding to the UN Syria Response Initiative has been delivered), which they warned would have irreversible consequences for refugees in their camps.

Clinics are closing, rations are being cut and people are not receiving enough caloric intake to remain nourished. The camps are at breaking point and more and more Syrians are fleeing to the cities and, increasingly, toward Europe.

7. “But where are all the women and children, especially in Calais, clearly the refugees are men looking for work?

Given the uncertainty surrounding a long journey to a new continent travelling along unfamiliar territory, it is only reasonable that many of the men, who have wives and families, take this risk on their own and try to establish asylum in a safe country before making arrangements for their spouse and family to join him.

It also reduces the cost of transit to Europe and precludes the anxiety over struggling to provide food and water for your children. At least at the camps you know they well be safer, better fed and have limited access to medical care.

The high number of young men, particularly in Calais’ ‘Jungle’ camp, is evidence of refugees fleeing conscription in the brutal Eritrea, where children as young as 14 can be forced into military service.

In the case of Syrians, parents encourage their young adult sons to flee the country in order to avoid being coerced to fight for the regime or the rebels, and to evade capture and execution by ISIS or the Al-Nusra Front.

Others, who have already be forced to fight for pro-Assad forces, have deserted and sought refuge outside Syria. After fighting for so long they have become disconnected from their families and make the journey alone not even knowing the fate of their loved ones.

Fig.3 Young Syrian men break through a fence in Turkey to escape ISIS

However, it is important to remember that the demographic breakdown of refugees camped in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey is split almost right down the middle in terms of gender. 50.5% of refugees, in the Middle East and North Africa region (where 95% of Syria’s refugees live), are female and 52%, overall, are under 18.

So there are not more adult males among the 4 million refugees. It is just that many men have made the reasonable decision not to expose their wives and children to any additional or unnecessary risk.

Fig.4 How Syrian refugees are dispersed in the Middle East and North Africa Region (where 95% of the refugees currently live)

8. “They will steal ordinary jobs from ordinary people; they’ll be given council housing ahead of deserving British people, they will put on burden on public services; the country is full”

To begin with, refugees, while their application is under consideration, are forbidden from engaging in employment and are forced to live off paltry State support, which is barely equal to the value of the JSA benefit payment.

Women and children are particularly at risk from violence and are likely to sink into poverty and destitution without adequate State or local authority assistance.

Refugees do not ‘jump the queue’ for social housing, they also have no say in where they live. Quite often they are housed in ‘hard to let’ properties in run down, often dangerous, urban areas that already experience social friction. Again, this places asylum seekers in a vulnerable environment.

Syrians granted asylum will also not be taking away ordinary jobs from those unskilled Britons who rely on menial, minimum wage work to scratch out a living.

As mentioned above, the adult Syrians are educated and skilled and offer great value to the labour market and the economy.

The UK’s health service currently employs 1200 doctors with asylum status. It is proven to be more cost-effective to retrain a foreign medical professional, so that they can be absorbed into the NHS (£25,000), than to train UK nationals from day 1 of medical school (£250,000).

Scotland is already considering plans to fill vacancies in medical roles with Syrian refugees who are trained in medicine.

“But shouldn’t we train and spend money our own people”.

Yes, of course, but this does not mean we cannot harness the skills and knowledge of educated Syrians for the mutual benefit of the refugee and the national economy.

The NHS is already wholly dependent on immigrant personnel to keep the monolithic health care machine running. Syrian medical professionals would merely be supplemental to our native and legal migrant stock.

An article in The Independent by a professor of Migration research at UCL attempts to answer some of the common objections relating to immigration, specifically, but his findings are relevant to the current refugee situation.

What is clear is that it is a question that needs to be considered at the local and regional level. Different counties and areas of the UK have varying capacities to take in a higher population and still sustain current living standards for the persons already living there.

On the topic of immigration, in our case asylum, affecting joblessness, he is quite categorical in stating that a sudden spike in population often has no bearing on unemployment rates.

When a quarter of a million Poles entered the UK in 20o4 and 2005, Professor Salt confirms that unemployment actually fell and that job vacancy adverts shows a small increase. Today, we are talking about just 20,000 people. The size of a modest university’s student body; a number that doesn’t even equate to one person in every town in the UK.

The belief that such a small flow of people, over five years I might add, will register any negative impact on British society is quite comical. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the reverse is true even when there is a large intake of refugees.  One reason is their impact often leads to wealth and job creation as refugees are more likely to set up small businesses. Many refugees have become creative geniuses involved in the digital revolution. Steve Jobs of Apple, who was the son of a Syrian refugee, Sergey Brin of Google, and Jerry Yang of Yahoo, are all examples of refugees who have contributed greatly to their adoptive societies.

@DanielAdshead25

Posted in Britain, Charity, European Union, Foreign Policy, Humanitarianism, Humanity, Politics, Refugee Crisis, Refugees, UK, UN | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Age of Ignorance: Adventures in the Fetid Bog of Prejudice, Ignorance and Misconception Surrounding the Refugee Crisis

@DanielAdshead25

Decades from now historians will study and opine on the current era in which we exist. Human societal development has reached a watershed moment in its evolution: we, in the UK, have fought for emancipation from serfdom; universal suffrage; the trade union movement; freedom of speech. All wondrous achievements for the betterment of individual lives. But this evolution has recently experienced a tumultuous, and insidious, change in trajectory. With the advent of 24-hour news media, the world wide web, digital technology, paradigm-shifting scientific discoveries, we have never before been exposed to such an abundance of knowledge.

We have unprecedented access to the public sphere following the radical ‘Big Bang’ of social media and online academic content and digitised archives of material. But, alas, it has not ushered in an apotheosis of high learning, nor has it engendered a population of well-informed and engaged individuals. No, civilisation has reached the era of ‘Freedom of Ignorance’, and the multitude are embracing it. In a climate of intellectual and cultural ferment, ignorance is now a choice not an inherent quality. But people are willfully making that choice, and nowhere is it more manifest than in the debate on, and public attitude toward, the Refugee Crisis in Europe.

The problem appears, to me, to be that most only seek information from one or two media outlets. Usually one that is already sympathetic to the individual’s societal values and world view. With regard to the refugee crisis the opinions of those on the negative side of the discourse are usually formed via the following formula:

  1. Person makes a random observation regarding the refugees (e.g. Crossing multiple EU borders to claim asylum in a particular country or refugees’ ownership of a Smart phone)
  2. They make assumptions that are based on conceived notions that have been spoon fed to them by the right wing press, and their own pre-existing prejudices, in order to provide an explanation for the observation.
  3. Their ‘conclusion’ is reinforced and, in their eyes, confirmed by demagogic, right wing fringe groups and certain sections of the political class and commentariat, which, for them, provides ‘evidence’ of its veracity.

Such people do not venture to expose themselves to multiple news and media sources that offer diverse perspectives. They are even less inclined to seek out academic research or data supplied by government departments, NGOs and multilateral organisations. Inevitably, they conflate shared attitudes and prejudices, held alongside their chosen news source, with factual truth and evidence.

Furthermore, they will not engage with, or sometimes even acknowledge, new information that utterly picks apart their assumptions and understanding. The usual response tactic is to move on to another grievance, again baseless and following the above formula, resort to ‘whataboutery’, or to just move the goalposts of their initial objection.

I will give one example to illustrate what I mean by the latter. I had a discussion with an individual fitting the ‘freedom of ignorance’ model. He initially stated that he was against granting asylum since refugees would steal ordinary jobs from ordinary Britons. I began by stating that refugees have no right to work while their applications are under review. I also relayed the point that most refugees who make it out of Syria are, what we would term, ‘middle class’: educated and, or, skilled.

For example, one of the few refugees who have already settled in the UK was profiled by the BBC. The interviewer discovered that this gentleman had worked as a radiographer for eight years, while his wife worked for a bank before they left Syria. I commented that, should they receive asylum in the UK, these refugees can become a boon to the national economy, and the labour market, as they possess skills we require. His retort was to suddenly show deep concern for the future of the Syrian people, and their country, by stating that ‘we shouldn’t take their best and brightest’, and suggested they should be ‘sent back to Syria to help rebuild their country’. Curious enough, I am sure you would agree.

Since, I consistently come up against the same concerns, regarding the refugee crisis, from those who choose the ignorant ‘blue pill’ over the enlightened ‘red pill’, I have decided to redress the most common misconceptions and grievances, below.

1. “We have thousands of homeless in Britain and nearly 1 million using food banks, let’s sort our own house first.”

I find this response incredibly infuriating for its brazen insincerity. Let’s put aside the fact that these are some of the same people expressing disdain for the poor and vulnerable who have their meagre income subsidised by increasingly shrinking benefits. But that they are reaching into the fetid bog of demagogy, and invoking the misery heaped on UK citizens as a method to press forth their own prejudices, against refugees and foreigners, is unreservedly egregious.

I’ll wager that most who suddenly show solicitude toward the benefit claimants, the disabled, the homeless have never expressed heartfelt concern for these groups in the past, and do nothing to help ease their suffering.

Additionally, The domestic scene and the humanitarian crisis on the Continent are two wholly separate issues than can be tackled concurrently.

brilliant meme

But then, this is usually the section of society that trumpets that odious phrase: “charity begins at home” as if helping your poor and vulnerable compatriots and assisting those overseas are mutually exclusive.

Listen, we are always going to have grievances toward the government on domestic matters, there are always going to be vulnerable citizens who are getting short shrift. Under these conditions you can use the ”don’t help others until we have helped our own” ‘argument’, in perpetuity, as a reason not to have any active engagement in overseas humanitarian relief.

2. “Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf States, are all rich countries and they are doing nothing to help. Why should we?”

This particular objection is underpinned by the incorrect assumption that all Syrians are Muslims and, therefore, it is incumbent on Islamic countries to offer sanctuary. However, 10% of the population in the Syrian Arab Republic are Christians; this figure equates to approximately 2.3m people. With the presence of ISIS and al-Nusra in Syria, the nation’s Christian population are especially vulnerable to persecution and violence – reports of genocide committed against the nation’s Christian population have surfaced on more than one occasion – and most have fled the country. I doubt they would feel particularly safe in Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In fact, the Middle East region has become increasingly unsafe and inhospitable for the region’s Christian minority, even before the advent of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Let’s go further into considering the option of fleeing to Saudi Arabia from a refugee’s (Christian or Muslim) perspective. Why would a family, or individual, fleeing war, terror and persecution wish to seek sanctuary under an autocratic, sometimes brutal, State sponsor of Islamist terrorism? A nation that abuses its Kenyan and Asian migrant workers – circumstances that are not unique to Saudi Arabia, but endemic among other nations in the Gulf region. It doesn’t give the impression of a welcoming haven for refugees, and Syrians know it.

Furthermore, with Jordan now closed to new Syrian refugees, the only feasible land route to the Gulf States is through…Iraq. A nation afflicted by its own nasty war, and the destructive presence of ISIS, cannot offer safe transit through to Saudi Arabia. The Syrians who made it to Iraq before the conflict with ISIS emerged are now trapped in Iraqi Kurdistan.

From the outbreak of civil war, in 2011Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have contributed more to the International Red Cross (which is very much THE charity operating in the region and supporting Syrian refugees) than both France and Italy, combined. These two European economies are roughly double the size of the Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia, collectively. Until recently, Saudi Arabia was the largest donor to foreign, on a per capita basis, in the entire world, though this was predominantly to Muslim countries.

The UAE currently donates the most in foreign aid as a proportion of its GDP (1.17%). The UAE delivers aid through through many entities, but 80% of its foreign aid spending is through the state and this alone equates to over $4bn. 2015 is the second year running that the UAE has been at the top of the ‘foreign aid’ list. The reason you are not likely to see these figures is because the UAE, and most Gulf states, are not members of the DAC (Development Assistance Committee). A 28-member forum to discuss issues surrounding foreign and development. Most publications of international ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) includes only those countries who are members of DAC.

In 2013, Qatar donated over £500m in foreign aid. The country focuses on the Arab world and Syria has received a huge chunk of this funding (over £400m in 2013). The country is committed to investing in humanitarian concerns throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

As well as the $900m pledged by Gulf nations, in 2013, to the Syrian cause (a pledge that has been surpassed). The Gulf countries also donate through their membership of OPEC, as the OPEC Fund for International Development has become a significant donor to the Red Cross in the past two years. A comprehensive 2014 report on development aid provided by the UAE can be found here.

Wealthy Arabs also account for the sizeable private donations received by the IRC. Prince bin-Talal of Saudi Arabia has committed his $32bn fortune to charity over the course of several years. It is important to remember that one of the five pillars of Islam is ‘alms giving’: charity is a facet that underpins expression of the Islamic faith, much like it is in Christianity.

The President of the UAE, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyanm, has donated $460m, throughout his life, to humanitarian concerns from his own personal wealth. It is no surprise that the government of UAE is significantly oriented toward foreign aid and development.

This next figure may also surprise many: There are 100,000 Syrians currently living in UAE. That’s right. However, they do not show up as refugees living in the UAE on any UN agency report. This is because these Syrians have been given FULL residency visas and so do not have ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum’ status.

The overwhelming fact is that, despite the protestations of the West and accusations of inaction and callousness, Arab leaders are sympathetic to the dire situation Syrians find themselves, and the news coverage is unending. They have further proven their concern for Syrian civilians by donating huge amounts of funding to humanitarian aid. Kuwait is the third-largest donor ($300m) to the UN’s Syria Response Fund, for example. In 2015, so far, Kuwait has donated over $100m, which is second most after the US, to UNHCR.

Ordinary citizens in Gulf nations have also expressed opinions that favour opening the door for more Syrian refugees (the Arabic hashtag “Arab Conscience” has been trending on social media). Outrage against the oil-rich Arab nations conjured up by some western governments, and media outlets, is an attempt to deflect attention away from its own regressive policy regarding Syria.

Embedded image permalink

A cartoonist in the Gulf criticises the the unwillingness of many Arab nations to take in refugees. (the original Arabic speech bubble has been altered to a basic English translation).

3. “Why are they travelling through multiple safe EU countries to get to a particular country?”

A common reason is that many refugees have family who reside in Europe. Relatives who have likely helped finance their escape from Syria and the Middle East. Naturally, a refugee would be anxious to be reunited with a relative, sometimes an entire family, whom they have not seen for years and who can offer a smooth transition for them in a nation, with their local knowledge and independence. I am sure if anyone had the opportunity to seek asylum in a country where they will be free from fear and uncertainty due to the presence of a friend or family member, would do all they can to make it to that country.

Another common motive is language and it is for the reasons outlined above. Having knowledge of your prospective host country’s language will be immeasurably beneficial when attempting to settle your family and build a life, either temporarily or permanently. This consideration is the fundamental rationale as to why the UK attracts Eritreans and Syrians more than any other nationality that is listed by the UN as ‘persons of concern’. In Eritrea, English is an official language (older generation Eritreans speak some Italian, a cultural characteristic of its colonial past, which is why Italy also receives a proportion of Eritreans), and because many of the Syrian refugees are highly educated, a significant number of them also speak English.

A more complicated explanation takes account of previous attempts to claim asylum in European countries. The Balkan countries and those of Central Europe, invariably, have hostile attitudes toward the refugees: Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia express particular opposition to any influx of asylum seekers and have already opposed the EU’s attempts to introduce a refugee quota system. Refugees are attuned to this hostility as soon as they arrive at the borders of certain countries. Their treatment by the authorities and the local population are evidence enough of how much they are not welcome and that it might be prudent to move on.

Nations such as Hungary also have a remarkably high propensity to reject asylum applications – usually for political reasons rather than on the merit of the applicant. From a total number of 5,445 decisions made by the Hungarian government, in 2014, on granting asylum, 4,935 were rejected. That’s less than a 10% approval rate: an astounding proportion. Of those 510 applications that were granted, less than half were given full refugee status.

The statistical graphic, below, shows a similarly bleak story for asylum applicants in Poland, Luxembourg, Belgium, and, at a shocking rate, France. The UK rejected over 60% of applications in which it made a decision. This figure had been even higher in previous years before the unfair and controversial Detained Fast Track System of dealing with asylum applications was scrapped after the government’s appeal failed in the courts. Those who have their applications rejected face deportation. It, therefore, should come as no surprise that we are seeing many refugees eager to cross the northern frontiers of countries like Hungary in order to reach Austria and Germany – countries that, in 2015, have radically changed their policy toward refugees. Why take all those risks and bankrupt yourself only to be turned away at the first port of entry?

800px-First_instance_decisions_on_(non-EU)_asylum_applications,_2014_(number,_rounded_figures)_YB15_IV

4. “99% are economic migrants who want to come to England and claim benefits”.

This fallacious notion has found credence even among senior politicians in Europe. Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, believes that the “overwhelming majority” are not refugees at all, but are migrants looking for a better life. While the Slovak Prime Minister summons up the arbitrary figure of 95% to describe the volume of economic migrants among those who are entering Europe.

Anyone would think that there has not been a devastating civil war raging in Syria for 4 and a half years; that war has not been ongoing in the Darfur region of Sudan for over 12 years: a war that has persecution and torture of black Sudanese, by the Arab government in Khartoum, as a central theme (incidentally, the President of Sudan, Omar Bashir is wanted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity); that their is not repression, torture, and indefinite terms of conscripted national service meted out by the regime in Eritrea; a the war in Iraq, and persistent violence and instability in Afghanistan.

The vast majority of those seeking asylum in Europe come from seven countries whose nationals are all recognised by UNHCR as ‘persons of concern’. They are also countries whereby their citizens achieve higher than 50% success rates in asylum applications to Europe, so their status is, more often than not, genuine.

The people we see making their way to EU countries are predominantly from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan. (40% are from Syria, alone). Eritreans and Syrians are two of the top three nationalities who are attempting to claim asylum in Britain. But yet their number is only in the low thousands, not the tens of thousands that we see making applications in Italy, Greece, France, Germany and Sweden.

Fig 2. Where Asylum Seekers to the UK originate from

There are 56 million people in the world who have been forcibly displaced and the UK is home to less than 0.5% of them. Of the 14m who are refugees (i.e. those who are not internally displaced within their own country) the UK is still home to less than 1%. But this is not just a comment on how unwilling the UK government has been to accept asylum seekers. What you will also notice, in the voluminous available data online, is that the vast majority of refugees do not wish to claim asylum here and this is a trend that is not unique to Syrians. For example, of the nearly half a million who have fled violence in DR Congo over the course of its bloody civil war, just 118 applied for asylum in Britain, up to the year 2011.

In 2014, 1.66m asylum applications were made worldwide (an record high). These were the top 3 recipients:

  • Russian Federation (274,000)
  • Germany (173,000)
  • USA (121,000)

The UK, on the other hand, received a total of 32,000 applications, fewer than Italy, France, Hungary and Sweden. Therefore, the number of asylum applications made to Britain, equates to just 2% of all asylum applications made in 2014. Asylum applications to Britain in 2015 – figures from January to June – has been less than 10,000: a figure that is fewer than in both Belgium and Austria (to add to the list of countries above).

Putting the figures in perspective for the UK should put a harness on the scaremongering of demagogues like UKIP, as well as the fear-inducing publications of certain sections of the commentariat: such as the Daily Mail’s, consultant editor, Andrew Pierce and, more recently, Peter Hitchens. I expect certain members of the right wing press to engage in unscrupulous and baseless sensationalism, but, to be honest, I am disappointed in Mr Hitchens’ article. A man who, whether I agree with his position on a particular issue or not, is usually impeccably well-informed, rigorous in his research, and a fine practitioner of level-headed rhetoric. His article can be found here.

For Mr Hitchens to say there will be “a demographic revolution” to detrimental consequences, in Britain, is ludicrous. For reasons already delineated above. But to even make that case for any country in Northern Europe would be equally wide of the mark. Single countries in Asia accommodate many more Syrian or Afghan refugees than the entire continent of Europe: Turkey (in its Asian territory) and Pakistan have, by far, the largest refugee populations, in absolute terms (1.9m and 1.5m, respectively). Lebanon and Jordan host the most refugees relative to the size of their populations.

In Lebanon more than 1 in 4 is a refugee, and the Za’atari camp in Jordan is now the country’s fourth largest city. Iran, Ethiopia, Uganda, China, Chad and Kenya all have received more refugees (this is total refugees not just Syrians, of course), than the entire Continent of Europe. Almost 60% of the world’s refugees (who are not IDPs) survive inside the countries mentioned above. Of those countries only Pakistan, Lebanon and Jordan can be said have considerable concerns over increasing instability caused by the volume of refugees, and the burden on economy and resources – Jordan, for example, is experiencing severe water shortages.

For Jordan and Lebanon, the deteriorating situation is more to do with the responsibility it has taken on, given its relative size and native population, rather than the presence of refugees being an inherent catalyst engendering instability and economic fragility. These nations, also, do not enjoy the sophisticated infrastructure; capacity for rapid logistical support; and coordination of multiple governmental institutions and non-governmental organisations in the effort to house, clothe, feed, integrate and provide health care to refugees that western nations can call upon. Jordan and Lebanon also do not have the robust and wealthy economies that most members of the G20 possess.

On the final point of refugees wishing only to claim benefits in England, a clear and succinct response is all that is needed to rubbish that claim.

First of all, 50% of all Syrian refugees are under 18 (an unprecedented proportion of a refugee population). Of those who are 18-59, most are educated and/or skilled and have worked throughout their lives. The idea that they would make the long, perilous journey, where they are exploited by people traffickers and abused by unsympathetic countries and their populations, only to give up their autonomy and self worth so that they can sit on a sofa in Clacton all day and watch Jeremy Kyle, is absurd. Not to mention the fact that these human beings come from a land where if you don’t work, you don’t eat. The presence of social security in their homeland is minimal if not non-existent. The very idea that they would have any concept of a Welfare State, let alone knowledge of how to bilk our, is equally worthy of haughty derision.

The UK is not the ‘Land of Milk and Honey’ which citizens of the land believe it be for foreigners. After all, don’t we have ‘our own’ sick, homeless, and vulnerable ‘to sort out first’ before we think about taking in refugees?

If that explanation doesn’t work for you, there’s always this young lad’s wise words:

way crapper

5. “But they have Smart phones and nice clothes, they can’t be that poor and needy”

Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise fleeing war and persecution was solely the inalienable right of the impoverished and those who are deficient in handheld technology. The ownership of this relatively cheap piece of equipment is not the exclusive domain of the developed world. Syria was a lower middle income country before the outbreak of war. Therefore, to put it crudely, it was not ‘poor’ in the traditional sense. There were 87 phones per 100 people in country in 2014. But this is beside the point.

The majority of adults who are able to leave Syria are educated and skilled (like the radiographer and bank employee mentioned at the beginning of this blog). It is their ‘middle class’ status that has allowed them to finance their escape from Syria and, subsequently, the leave the deplorable conditions of the refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

By the time they have made it to Europe, they are virtually penniless as their savings have been handed over to unscrupulous degenerates who offer them a place on a dinghy in which to make the daunting voyage across a hazardous Mediterranean sea. Those lower on the socioeconomic scale, who more accurately represent our media-fuelled notions of what a poor foreigner looks like, are the 7.5m who remain internally displaced within the utter hell of civil war. Poor Syrians who do not have the capital, or the familial contacts in Europe, to call upon for help in escaping the catastrophe tearing apart their homeland.

6. “Why don’t they stay in the camps in Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon where they are already safe?”

This is what many have been doing for a long time. It’s why it has taken over four years of war before the refugee crisis has manifested itself north of Greece. The current refugees who are trekking along the motorways and country roads of Europe have not arrived fresh from Syria. They are people who have come to the realisation the there will not be a speedy resolution to the civil war in the short or even medium-term future and have decided to move on from the camps. Fully intending to return as soon as a relatively normal state of affairs returns to Syria, they intially remained in their area of displacement – as 86% of all displaced people in the world do – so that they could make their way back to their homes swiftly in order to rebuild their shattered lives.

However, the mood has changed in the camps of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Not just because there appears no end in sight to the conflict, but because conditions within the camps are deteriorating rapidly. Many have been operating for nearly five years and the resources are under immense strain more than ever. With growing instability and economic fragility creeping further every week, for all three countries, their capacity, and willingness, to be generous is in decline. Lebanon is threatened by a renewed outbreak of civil war: with humanitarian aid beginning to dwindle, resentments toward the refugees from the country’s natives have seen social tensions arising in a nation where over 1 in 4 is a refugee.

The refugees, themselves, are plunging further into poverty and beginning to suffer from malnutrition and ill-health now that rations are depleted and medical supplies are becoming scarce. There are also family concerns over their children’s educations. For those who are not in school in Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan, the ongoing period in which they are out of education is going to have detrimental consequences on their future job opportunities and livelihoods. The refugees are looking to alternative destinations.

In Jordan the situation is even worse. Like Lebanon it has closed its borders to more refugees as it faces uncertain times regarding its internal security and its economy. The country is experiencing severe water shortages, and drops in aid support from the international community. Some refugees here are descending into abject poverty and forced to leave the camps and enter the surrounding urban areas to live in abandoned or dilapidated buildings with no running water or sanitation. Two-third of refugees are estimated to be living below the poverty line. One third of refugee children are not enrolled in school in Jordan.

For those who have been forced to relocate into the surrounding urban areas, half of the households have no heating and many have unreliable electricity supplies and no functioning toilet (which is particularly a problem for young girls and women). It was recently reported that UNHCR had been dealt a 10% funding blow, which they warned would have irreversible consequences for refugees in their camps. Clinics are closing, rations are being cut and people are not receiving adequate caloric intake to remain nourished and stave off infection and disease. The camps are at breaking point and more and more Syrians are fleeing to the cities. But recently Europe has become the answer for many refugees.

7. “But where are all the women and children, especially in Calais, clearly the refugees are men looking for work?

Given the uncertainty surrounding a long journey to a new continent travelling along unfamiliar territory, it is only reasonable that many of the men, who have wives and families, take this risk on their own and try to establish asylum in a safe country before making arrangements for their spouse and family to join him. It also reduces the cost of transit to Europe and precludes the anxiety over struggling to provide food and water for your children. At least at the camps you know they well be safer, better fed and have limited access to medical care.

The high number of young men, particularly in Calais’ ‘Jungle’ camp, is evidence of refugees fleeing conscription in the brutal Eritrea. In the case of Syrians, parents encourage their young adult sons to flee the country in order to avoid being coerced to fight for the regime or the rebels, and to evade capture and execution by ISIS or the Al-Nusra Front. Others, who have already be forced to fight for pro-Assad forces, have deserted and sought refuge outside Syria. After fighting for so long they have become disconnected from their families and make the journey alone not even knowing the fate of their loved ones.

Fig.3 Young Syrian men break through a fence in Turkey to escape ISIS

However, it is important to remember that the demographic breakdown of refugees camped in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey is split almost right down the middle in terms of gender. 50.5% of refugees, in the Middle East and North Africa region (where 95% of Syria’s refugees live), are female and 52%, overall, are under 18. So there are not more adult males among the 4 million refugees. It is just that many men have made the reasonable decision not to expose their wives and children to any additional or unnecessary risk.

Fig.3 How Syrian refugees are dispersed in the Middle East and North Africa Region (where 95% of the refugees currently live)

8. “They will steal ordinary jobs from ordinary people; they’ll be given council housing ahead of deserving British people, they will put on burden on public services; the country is full”

The Refugee Council website is one of the best places to bury these kinds of fears and misapprehensions. To begin with, refugees, while their application is under consideration, are forbidden from engaging in employment and are forced to live off paltry State support, which is barely equal to the value of the JSA benefit payment. Though this will hopefully no longer be the case as George Osborne announced plans to redirect a portion of the foreign aid budget toward support refugees living in the UK. But this does not mean that asylum seekers will be given an easy life once they reach the UK. Women and children are particularly at risk from violence and are likely to sink into poverty and destitution without adequate State or local authority support. With the existing, but wholly unnecessary, council budget cuts, services and support networks for refugees will stripped to the bone.

Once their application is granted they are free to seek employment and access public services. But, unlike the myth that the right wing demagogues like to circulate, refugees do not ‘jump the queue’ for social housing, they also have no say in where they live. Quite often they are housed in ‘hard to let’ properties in run down, often dangerous, urban areas that already experience social friction. Again, this places asylum seekers in a vulnerable environment. Hopefully, given the hot topic that the refugee crisis has become, the government will do a volte face on how it currently serves the nation’s asylum seekers and improve their prospects and quality of life without alienating its native population. A delicate balancing act but one that can be achieved with the necessary will and conviction of our government.

Syrians granted asylum will also not be taking away ordinary jobs from those unskilled Britons who rely on menial, minimum wage work to scratch out a living.

*This reality being another policy failing of the government, but, unfortunately, does not allow me to critique at length as it does not fall within the scope of this piece.*

As mentioned above, the adult Syrians are educated and skilled and offer great value to the labour market and the economy. The UK’s health service currently employs 1200 doctors with asylum status. It is proven to be more cost-effective to retrain a foreign medical profession, so that they can be absorbed into the NHS (£25,000), than to train UK national from day 1 of medical school (£250,000). Scotland is already considering plans to fill vacancies in medical roles with Syrian refugees who are trained in medicine.

“But shouldn’t we train and spend tax payer’s money our own people?”. Quite right, we should focus on equipping young Britons with the skills the country needs, but this does not mean we cannot utilise the skills and knowledge of educated Syrians for the mutual benefit of the refugee and the national economy. The NHS is already wholly dependent on immigrant personnel to keep the monolithic health care machine running. Syrian medical professionals would merely be supplemental to our native and legal migrant stock.

I talk about it being a mutually beneficial relationship between refugee and the labour market. The country increases output with its fresh intake of skills and education, this augments public service delivery, productivity, wealth creation and public satisfaction, while refugees are able to continue plying their trade, obtaining more skills, training and experience in a technologically-advanced and developed country. he or she restores their self worth and is able to be self-sufficient in providing for his or her family. The new skills and experiences will be invaluable to the rebuilding effort in a post-conflict Syria, should they wish to return, and hopefully the UK can do all it can to facilitate a smooth repatriation process.

But all of the above depends on just which refugees we are planning to take. The government is suggesting that it will take the most vulnerable from UNHCR refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The likely beneficiaries will be women and children. Although it is welcome news, despite the derisory number of refugees we intend to settle, I fear that cherry picking predominantly women and children will perpetuate the dire circumstances that many female and child asylum seekers, currently in the UK, already suffer (see above). For there to be tangible integration and adequate quality of life for the Syrians arriving in the UK, families need to be kept together and an appreciable number of refugee men need to be included in the 20,000. The key to success is to bring about the kind of circumstances outlined above, which draw upon ‘self worth’ and ‘independence’ through employment as pivotal drivers for a successful and happy transition to UK society. Ghettoising women and children in unwanted houses that are located in undesirable, and often intimidating, areas is inviting social tension and division.

An article in The Independent by a professor of Migration research at UCL attempts to answer some of the common objections relating to immigration, specifically, but his findings are relevant to the current refugee situation. Although he is ambivalent and, somewhat, non-committal, on either side of the argument, vis-a-vis whether Britain is “full”. What is clear is that it is a question that needs to be considered at the local and regional level. Different counties and areas of the UK have varying capacities to take in a higher population and still sustain current living standards for the persons already living there.

On the topic of immigration, in our case asylum, affecting joblessness, he quite categorical in stating that a sudden spike in population often has no bearing on unemployment rates. When a quarter of a million Poles entered the UK in 20o4 and 2005, Professor Salt confirms that unemployment actually fell and that job vacancy adverts shows a small increase.

Today, we are talking about just 20,000 people. The size of a modest university’s student body; a number that doesn’t even equate to one person in every town in the UK. The belief that such a small flow of people, over five years I might add, will register any negative impact on British society is quite comical. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the reverse is true even when there is a large intake of refugees.  One reason is their impact often leads to wealth and job creation as refugees are more likely to set up small businesses. Many refugees have become creative geniuses involved in the digital revolution. Steve Jobs of Apple, who was the son of a Syrian refugee, Sergey Brin of Google, and Jerry Yang of Yahoo, are all examples of refugees who have contributed greatly to their adoptive societies.

If you have stayed with me until this point, then I salute your effort. This is a huge piece of writing to dedicate in which to donate any significant amount of time, especially as I am not an expert authority on the matter. But I hope you have found it enlightening.

As a reward here’s a baby gorilla

@DanielAdshead25

Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments

A Snapshot of the British Attitude to The Refugee Crisis

drowned refugee

I cried today. Daily I keep abreast of various humanitarian crises, and conflict-affected areas, given my interests and career aspirations. The refugees crisis has shot to the forefront recently and it finally all got too much for me.

They say an image paints a thousand words, but some do more: they scorch an indelible print on your mind that serves as a reminder of how cruel is the world in which we live, and how charred black the hearts are of many who live within, and govern, it.

The above photograph, taken on a Turkish beach close to where 12 refugees drowned, is one such image – and also the cause of my tearfulness. For me it does two things at the same time: first, it is a vivid manifestation of the severity to which the refugee crisis has reached, and how dire an humanitarian catastrophe is faced by Europe, Africa and Asia. But it also represents our failure as a species. It leaves exposed the weakness and mistrust, in collaboration, between nations and political figures; and it lays bare our impotency, at the national and multilateral level, in response to the gravest ills facing millions. It reveals truths about how we really view the world and humanity, and how compassion, morality and common sense have reached their nadir in the history of human existence.

We see ourselves in that lifeless child’s body. We too are inert, unresponsive, definitively deadened by our callousness to the point we have lost one of the essential characteristics that separates us from the animals: our capacity to express solicitude and empathy toward our fellow man (and woman) and help those who are weak and vulnerable. I speak as a citizen of the UK. Outside of these Isles, for there is a glimmer of hope, elsewhere, that Humankind has not lost the shining light of its most redeeming feature.

It is images like this, and the stories that accompany them, that punctuate the reality of a growing humanitarian crisis which, for the Germans, actually impels the country, and the multitude of its citizens, to lead the way in assuaging the distressing situation and the horrendous privations affecting millions of refugees. Syrians (who constitute around 40% of those crossing the Mediterranean) are being welcomed with open arms by the German Chancellor and the German people alike. This kind of image, and what it represents, mobilises this central European nation to act. And act it has, as Germany has decided it will settle 800,000 (likely to be revised up) Syrian refugees within its borders. The country, and its people, endeavour to try and understand the desperate situation, and the horrors experienced by those fleeing, so thoroughly and sympathetically, that a single German football team invited 220 refugees (fewer than the total number of Syrians currently granted asylum in the entire UK) in order to help welcome their new ‘guests’ (as they refer to refugees in Germany, whereas the UK prefers ‘swarms’ and ‘marauding hordes’) and relieve the stresses and uncertainties of being a foreigner, alone, in a foreign land with nothing but the clothes on your back and, if you’re lucky, a loved one or family.

Germany is not the only nation to have a singularly impressive grasp of the humanitarian situation, nor the only one to open its borders to those fleeing years of war and violence. Iceland and Sweden are also proving extremely hospitable (though the former’s national government has only committed to take in a few dozen refugees). Again, these countries are led by the noble compassion, and exemplary integrity of its citizens, many of whom are opening up their own homes to refugees. Industrious and dynamic youth in Germany and Iceland have set up websites in order to facilitate a relationship whereby a family or individual can host a refugee, or refugee family, in their own homes.

But when the UK gazes on such a horrendous sight, that is utterly incongruous to what we like to believe about ourselves, our country and our ‘civilisation’, it is outraged not by the realities it depicts: that people are dying in a desperate effort to flee persecution, war, violence and destitution. But by the fact it was published by a newspaper at all for us to see. In the UK photos like this are not sparking compassion or a clamouring for our government to take action to help alleviate the suffering – and its not only a case of allowing a sustainable number of refugees a safe haven within our borders. They only engender debates over whether the picture should have been published at all.

The UK remains blind, and in the face of data and figures cited by research bodies and governmental departments, a large proportion of the public will continue to regurgitate the bitter resentments and prejudices that the right wing press spoon feeds to them, daily. Many will harangue you on social media claiming that 99% of the asylum seekers are ‘economic’ migrants. It’s almost as if they are not aware that conflict has been ongoing in Syria for 5 years; the Darfur region of Sudan for 12; that brutal regimes torture and kill in the Horn of Africa; there is civil war in Central Africa; and violence and war still ravage Iraq and Afghanistan.

A newspaper for once prints THE FUCKING NEWS!!!!! And people still wish to ignore it. Because it’s a chilling reminder, to many, that we are complicit; that the UK holds a percentage of accountability in this misery; and that we are a nation of cowards, hypocrites and willfully ignorant sleepwalkers (our politicians being the most egregious examples), who shirk from confronting the reality for fear of the uncomfortable truths it will reveal about ourselves, and the ignoble truths we will be forced to acknowledge regarding this ‘Great’ Britain.

drowned child

Edit to Add*

In light of the aftermath  of the public reaction to the photographs, I would like to add a rejoinder to the widespread media assertions that the emotional potency of the image of Aylan Kurdi has provoked a seismic shift in the population’s attitude toward the refugee crisis. I believe nothing can be further from the truth. It even appears that many have even become galvanised, by the government’s half-hearted change of tack to allow in more refugees, and are openly critical of the decision while stating that they do not wish to see refugees within our borders. Some, even members of the commentariat, sank to the unchartered depths of actually blaming the little boy’s father for Aylan’s death due to his decision to leave a ‘rich’ country like Turkey where their life was no longer in danger.

What we are seeing is not a radical change in national outlook toward the refugees and the crisis in Europe. But merely that those who have been on the good side since the start – wishing to see the UK  adequately share the collective responsibility toward these desperate and suffering people – have, rightly, been inspired to become more vocal on the issue with many taking  a very active engagement in the crisis: setting up facebook groups of like minded-people to co-ordinate group efforts to help the refugees; arranging collections and donations of food, clothes, tents, etc; arranging events and demonstrations to put pressure on the government to act more decisively.

One can test this reality by taking oneself out of the confines of their friendship group and social media network which is, largely, made up of those who share similar values, opinions and attitudes, and a comparable worldview to one’s own and then throwing yourself into the fetid bog that is the thoughts and feelings of ‘Joe Public’. One glance at the comments section of almost any online media outlet will provide a particularly rude awakening. Some of you may even be seeing this new found confidence of the anti-refugee cohorts on your own social media news feeds, or in family dinner conversations.

The fact is, these people (who really due reflect the majority I am sad to say) had no reason to be vocal prior to the government’s recent change of tack, purely because the government’s previous policy on refugees was widely supported. There was nothing to react to, so the anti-refugee contigent could happily stay silhouetted in the background. But now, led by the Murdoch/right wing media vanguard, they are ready to kick back hard at the government and make their voices and opinions depressingly clear and unequivocal.

Posted in Britain, European Union, Humanity, Politics, Refugees | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

In Jeremy Corbyn, the Heart of the Left Can Beat Anew

Another day, another poll reducing Tony Blair, and his acolytes in the PLP, to despair. First, there was the misguided belief among Labour MPs that nominating Corbyn would ensure a broad debate during the, presently interminable, leadership election, while at the same time those MPs felt safe in the assumption that he was ‘too Left’ to have any chance of being victorious. That hypothesis proved to be, well, wholly misguided. When polls were published alongside the eruption of public support for Corbyn – both the man and the principles – showed that the rebel backbencher was, to put it delicately, comfortably in the lead, the anti-Corbyn cohorts, and particularly his opponent sin the leadership contest, erected the narrative that he was ‘unelectable’, and implored Labour members not to vote for him if they wished to avoid another five years of Tory rule come 2020. But the runaway Jezza freight train has continued apace. He has the backing of the largest unions in the country, is rapidly becoming an icon for the left-leaning younger generation and students, and has enjoyed praise, punctuated by joyful expressions of euphoria, from Labour’s core and socialist-minded members of the commentariat.

These potent bastions of support have formed the vanguard of activism, and effective communication, in the interests of promoting Mr. Corbyn’s campaign. They demonstrate, and purposefully elucidate, the thriving anti-austerity sentiment that is fermenting among the UK population. The desire for a truly rigorous opposition that will not compromise and submit to an insidious Tory narrative on the ‘economic necessity’ of austerity, public sector cuts, and harsh sanctions against the poor and vulnerable has been expressed loudly for some time. Now it has reached its apotheosis, and in this volcanic cacophony of popular anger and dissatisfaction, vented, with vim, against the status quo, Jeremy Corbyn sits atop the rising ash cloud of inevitable seismic change in UK politics.

Now the charge that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’ and his potential leadership will banish the Labour Party into the ‘political wilderness’ and begin a long painful period of ‘Tory hegemony’ has been given little credence – much like the bigwigs in the Labour Party, Yvette Cooper being chief among them, denounced Corbyn’s economic outlook as ‘not credible‘ – by new polls asserting that more people would vote for a Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn compared to any of his rivals. The poll only surveyed 1000 people, with varied political allegiances, but the other pertinent statistic, extrapolated from the survey, is that almost half of those questioned said that Corbyn as leader would have no effect on whether they would vote Labour or not. So it appears that the ‘unelectable’ argument is even more unstable given that a portion of those not intending to vote for Corbyn as leader would still support Labour in a General Election. His position is strengthened further by the consideration, supported by the same poll, that Corbyn is popular among a broad spectrum of people with divergent political affiliations. It found that most supporters of the other major political parties have a stronger positive opinion of Corbyn, his personality and his policies, than any of the other candidates.

These findings can only rally fresh support to Corbyn’s cause. Those, like Peter Wilby of the New Statesman, who are more positively aligned with the views of the Islington North MP than the other candidates, but who have shown a disinclination to support his leadership bid because of a perception that Labour would struggle to take power in Westminster with him at the helm. Such Labour supporters may be galvanised, by the results of the poll, to commit to the candidate they truly believe in, and one who is not a carbon copy of the outdated, and obsolete, political and economic thinking of the New Labour era that Labour’s rank and file, and union members, have unequivocally disowned. They will see how a breath of fresh air like Corbyn – an odd, but perfectly fitting, choice of phrase for someone who is 66 and hasn’t changed his political views since election to the House in 1983 – has mobilised the disenchanted youth, and reinvigorated the disillusioned Labour core.

A final point to touch upon is the comparison between Corbyn and Michael Foot, the Labour leader during the ill-fated 1983 General Election, and the close affiliation between Corbyn and the ‘suicide note’ manifesto that the Party campaigned on that year. On the former point, the comparison is lazy journalism, and it can be categorically asserted that Corbyn is, firstly, more left than Foot was, but also their respective political characters are completely at odds. Foot was a staunch loyalist, whereas Corbyn has defied the whip more than 500 times in his Westminster career, while also criticising erstwhile labour leaders; most excoriatingly, Tony Blair vis a vis the Iraq War. With regard to the latter point and how it is used to denigrate Corbyn’s politics and justify concerns over his electability – after all, Labour suffered a catastrophic defeat in the 1983 election – the salient point to be made is in the fundamental differences between the United Kingdom of 1983 and the current circumstances of the UK today. Additionally, the degree to which perceptions and attitudes have changed over those 32 years, when considered alongside the tenets of the infamous 1983 manifesto document are helpful in explaining his appeal, and therefore are of significant consequence.

When you examine the main points of the 1983 manifesto, which Jeremy Corbyn is still largely subscribed to, they are all issues that presently concern a wide section of society, and frequently crop up in the political and economic consciousness. From the scrapping/non-renewal of Trident, to renationalisation of public utilities, to the question of EU membership, nearly all the precepts contained within the manifesto have been invoked during the Labour leadership contest, and in the anticipation up to the General Election back in May. Furthermore, we are seeing growing support for such policies as renationalisation of the rail network, with its crumbling Victorian infrastructure and exorbitant rail fares. Also the scrapping of the Trident nuclear programme in favour of spending on housing and public service provision. Euroscepticism is proliferating among the Left too, and although the Labour Party, and Corbyn, do not advocate a ‘Brexit’ like it did back in 1983, the issue is still a point of contention in the public sphere. Dismay at the existence of an unelected upper chamber of the House is another hot topic, and Corbyn is again on the side of the masses in calling for its abolition. Child care provision, increased spending on the NHS, education, tuition fees, the list goes on. Even taking the new found resonance of the 1983 manifesto out of account, you can see why Corbyn is popular just by reviewing his education policy and economic proposals. The desire to scrap tuition fees and reintroduce EMA and maintenance grants, goes a way into explaining his popularity with young people and those who exalt education as the true vehicle of social mobility. Like in 1983, Corbyn expresses a desire to create a National Investment Bank to invest in infrastructure and R & D so that the UK can engender increased innovation and be at the forefront of designing new technologies and best practices that sustain long-term growth. As someone who subscribes to the belief in endogenous growth theory, if I were a member of the Labour Party I would vote for him on those two platforms alone. But just that Corbyn has a critical approach, and a clearly outlined vision, – a rarity in politics today – in answer to the present-day preoccupations of the multitude is refreshing enough.

There is a restored hope in the future of British politics, anti-austerity is firmly on the platform of public discourse, and people are aching for the transformation of a political conversation that has become dry, hackneyed, and automated. They want to see a retaking of the societal narrative that Osborne, and the Tories have misappropriated for their own ideological impulses which are wreaking havoc on the poor and vulnerable. Corbyn’s election will be the start of a revolution of the Left that I have been advocating for years. If it leads to another schism, then it is a small price to pay to see a true Leftist party, with the potency and lucid voice of reason, adequately represent the perennially downtrodden, scapegoated and neglected poor.

The Left, all across Europe, have always been plagued by internal disunity throughout history, but what matters in the reality of today’s times is that a genuine, purposeful and socially progressive Left has a beating heart once more, and it resides in the breast of Jeremy Corbyn.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My reply to South West MEP Julie Girling’s email defending the principles of the Transatlantic trade and Investment Partnership

Dear Julie,

   Thank you for your swift reply, and the information you provided. However, many concerns still remain. I find it is disingenuous and duplicitous, on your part, to assert that you are passionate about protecting the NHS from privatisation, when knowing full well that TTIP will endeavour to open up government and public services contracts to private sector bidding. It becomes even more egregious when you, and Labour in their manifesto, declare intentions to ensure that the NHS is exempt from this provision. The vastness of the NHS as an employer and health service provider makes it a veritable gold mine for private enterprise, and there is no way the USA will allow it to be an exceptional case for protection from private sector bidding.
The barriers for for trade between the US and EU/UK are already low; TTIP isn’t a means to ‘remove obstacles’ to further capitalise on trading potential for the economic benefit of governments and their people, it is an assault on the regulations and practices that protect consumers from dangerous and poor quality edible and non-edible products. Why can’t America improve its standards, regulations, and practices in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, chemicals, food, etc to the benefit of the consumer (by ensuring higher quality, and neutralising risk), rather than the EU being forced to relax its consumer protections to the detriment of health, safety, and quality under the guise of ‘harmonisation’?
This treaty is all about increasing the ability of, predominantly, American MNCs and TNCs to flood our market with their inferior, and less-rigorously-tested crap. It will disproportionately benefit the USA – in terms of increasing capital flow, and therefore government tax revenues – rather than the EU (if it benefits us at all.)
The chapter on ISDS is not even worth debating given the basic principles it is founded on. ISDS will transfer immense legal power to large corporations that will undermine democracy, and allow CEOs and business leaders to hold sway over public policy in all the constituent countries signed up to the TTIP pact.
The negotiations do not have to have been concluded before all of the above to be evident.
After reading the documents on the link you provided, I am still dumbfounded as to the necessity of this agreement with trade barriers already so low. Custom duties at an average of 2%, but I am now being asked to have sympathy for duties on carcinogenics being ‘prohibitively high’ at 350%?
I am more concerned with the impact on SMEs ( the backbone of our economy) who are going to be further marginalised and forced out of business due to the increased advantages that TTIP offers to big business.
I am even more concerned for the welfare of rank and file workers, and the vulnerable, small links in the supply chain (farmers, labourers, miners etc), as TTIP will deregulate and axe certain laws and practices, and relinquish important employment laws and rights that protect EU workforces. As a result, job insecurity unemployment will spike, and the forgotten labourers and farmers on the plantations and down the mines will be further exploited and even more inadequately remunerated. All of this, lamentably and outrageously, by design.
I also find the weak attempts to assuage concerns to be incredulous. To the charge that TTIP will ‘lower protections for consumers and the environment’, the factsheet on regulatory cooperation simply states:
“We will keep our high levels of protection. In a number of areas EU and US regulations provide similarly high levels of protection and could be compatible. In others, we will keep our different levels of protection”

The assurances are vague and also contradictory to the apparent aim of TTIP, which is to lower the trade barriers. Since tariffs are already at the floor, the only major obstacles are in differing degrees on regulation; by stipulating that some regulations are already compatible, and that those that aren’t will just be left as they are in their respective jurisdictions, means that those who are negotiating TTIP are either not very bright, or believe the we, the people, are not paying attention. For if no changes will be made to the regulations that differ too widely, then how does TTIP serve its proclaimed purpose? The creation of ‘Regulatory Cooperation Body’ also seems superfluous if, as the factsheet claims, TTIP will not alter the rules on how regulations are made.

I also have a problem with how the more detailed document tries to frame the present state of regulation in the US and EU market, as well as the positives of harmonisation. Most troubling is that the document tries reconcile its own invented paradox by stating that both the EU and USA have similarly sophisticated laws and regulations that offer a high degree of protection and safety to consumers and the environment. but yet years of negotiations negotiations are needed to achieve compatibility. In the first instance, the document propounds a blatant falsehood. American regulations on food, cosmetics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, GMOs are paltry compared to the truly advanced and stringent protections the EU affords its citizens. The EU operates on the ‘precautionary principle’, meaning that if their is any evidence of a product possessing a risk, or a potential to do harm,to a consumer, then it is declared unfit to be released to market. In the US, the onus is placed on regulators and standards authorities, rather than manufacturers, to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a product or foodstuff is potentially hazardous. For example, the US wants fewer regulations, and consumer protections in its chemicals industry.

The following is an excerpt from a report be Chemtrust:
“Over the last 15 years the European Union (EU) has begun to implement relatively stronger and more systematic policies. These provide a framework for replacing hazardous chemicals with safer, more innovative solutions (under REACH) as well as encourages new solutions for agricultural practices with less pesticides in the context of the sustainable use directive.”
And then they move onto the USA:
” In contrast, the US federal chemical regulatory system, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) dates from 1976 and very few chemicals have been regulated in the nearly 40 years since it came into force…Regarding pesticides, a recent CIEL report analysed the differences in the EU and US regulatory systems, including a table of 82 pesticides which are banned in the EU but not in the US.”
The report http://www.chemtrust.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Final-CHEM-Trust-TTIP-EAC-evidence-Jan15.pdf alsoprovides evidence to support the claim that regulatory harmonisation will dramatically lower the regulations and protections in the EU, rather than raise the US regulations to a level more compatible with the EU’s present system.
Not to mention that the US chemical industry has a long history of lobbying against the EU’s attempts to introduce new regulations on its chemicals; Colin Powell even sent a cable to US embassies around the world to ask them to talk to non-EU governments, using incorrect impact figures from a US Chemical Industry study. (and yet we are expected to believe that the USA will not push hard for a complete capitulation by the EU on its tight regulations that protect us, and our flora and fauna, from harmful chemicals.
When has America ever yielded to another on business and economic interests? All signs point to downward harmonisation, and a European land and population exposed to increased risk and danger.
The TTIP factsheet on the topic of regulation is far too nebulous, by design I surmise, and the promise to maintain protection of consumer and environment does not hold water. I would appreciate it, if you could provide more information on the regulatory harmonisation chapter of the proposed TTIP agreement, from the International Trade Committee, especially with regard to how the EU will safeguard protections on consumers and the environment.
Yours
Daniel Adshead
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

You’re Doing it Wrong: Why the Next Government Should Raise Direct Taxes

Two major  concerns in the UK, despite the promulgation made by the coalition, are not being adequately addressed: Cost of living and poor public services.

Public service delivery, as a whole, in the UK has declined, steadily, in quality for a while now. The NHS and welfare budgets are haemorrhaging money, while, paradoxically, operating on a budget that is not fit for purpose. Yet both are expected to function competently and effectively. To use the NHS as an example, healthcare is subsisting on the bare minimum required simply to keep the operation running at its current capacity. There isn’t the minutest whisper of investment and increased capacity to provide care; rather, MPs are squabbling over how they can merely prevent the service from collapse. It certainly feels like we are experiencing the death throes of free, universal healthcare, especially with austerity on the menu for the next government no matter who forms it in May.

In the face of fatal hits to the public sector, people are constantly enveloped in the carefully rehearsed monologue of “strong growth”, “unemployment falling”, “wages rising”, “two million new private sector jobs”, “deficit halved” when the spectre of the ‘cost of living’ is invoked by Labour. But, while all the glass half full statistics are a powerful broadside to launch against the opposition, it falls on deaf ears for a large proportion of Britons who do not discern the benefits of the “robust recovery” – as the rating agency Standard & Poor’s described the UK economy’s performance and outlook. This reality further ossifies the perception that the Tories’ “long term economic plan”, which has brutally wrought an imbalanced economic upturn, is one that is solely serving the upper echelons of power and society.

As part of a classic manoeuvre to generate political capital before an election, and reverse the idea of the Tories as a party of the rich, for the rich, Chancellor George Osborne announced a rise in the income tax threshold to £11,000: “taking more people out of tax”. This is a remarkable example of wizardry with language that facilitates a reorientation – perhaps manipulation would be more apt – regarding how the public view taxation. The phrase “taking individuals out of tax” implies a deliverance from an unnecessary evil and suggests this policy is of significant benefit to those concerned.. We are deceived into believing that shrinking the number of people who pay into government coffers is a good thing. Taxation has suddenly become immoral.

This has occurred due to an ideological feature innate within the Conservative Party. The Tories advocate low taxation, a small public sector, little intervention and leaving the country to the mercy of ‘self-regulating’ market forces that will lead the UK to growth and prosperity. This worldview has not altered to any worthwhile degree, even in light of the crisis of 2008. It is this degenerative adherence to party politics that blinds Conservative Party MPs to manifest causal path of low taxation leading swiftly to deteriorating public services. This is why public services suffer, often irreparably, when there is a Conservative majority in power. Total war was not declared on our public services thanks, in large part, to tempering influence of the Lib Dems in the coalition Cabinet.

Here is a simple formula to help explain: High employment rate + higher reasonable taxation = Quality public service delivery

Because this Tory-led government has succeeded in further weaponising direct taxation, and expunging the basic essence of the role that taxes perform in the progression of a society, people have forgotten that to receive adequate public services, you have to pay for them. It is no coincidence that the Scandinavian countries, and Switzerland, have far higher rates of tax, and enjoy a quality of public services that is envied throughout the West. While the UK has among the lowest – it falls below the OECD average for tax rates that apply to single people with no children, on an average salary for their country – and our public services show it.

**N.B. Of course other direct taxes – such as Corporate Tax and Capital Gains Tax – are a huge source of revenue and play a massive role in funding public services, but due to the scope of this essay I am choosing to focus on Income Tax which affects us all.**

This perceived immorality of raising income tax is compounded by the false idea, propounded by the coalition, that the best way improve to people’s living standards is through keeping income tax low and raising the income tax threshold. This is not wholly true – and besides, a more sensible and beneficial pursuit would be to, instead, raise the NIC threshold, which benefits both workers and businesses and can stimulate further job growth. While income tax redistributes wealth, and reduces income inequality, those who are in low paid work or unemployed are given little incentive to work more hours or take up paid employment for what is very little net financial gain where a lower income tax and an increase in the threshold is concerned The extra income is subject to income tax anyway but more importantly, is reduced further by the iniquity of savage indirect tax rates (VAT, excise duties on petrol, tobacco, alcohol etc).

Income tax is a mildly progressive system of tax; whereas indirect taxes are regressive in that the proportion of tax paid actually declines as income level increases. they are also less transparent as taxes on commodities can be raised by stealth.  Therefore, as a rule, indirect taxes hit the poorest hardest and increase inequality, because, as a percentage, the lower socioeconomic classes spend more of their money on taxable goods. Not surprisingly, they are the taxes that the Tories traditionally raise (e.g. VAT rise to 20% in 2011) to offset their drops in income tax. If the coalition had been sincere in its efforts to alleviate the squeeze on low income households, it would have reduced the destructive rates of indirect taxes.

By doing so, in conjunction with raising income tax to 22%, and with a rises in Corporate and Capital Gains Tax, it would benefit the UK population – particularly the poorest – in two fundamental ways. First by engendering a more progressive tax regime that better redistributes wealth. And secondly, reducing the need for future cuts while allowing for prudent investment in public services. Of course there are also policy decisions which can also be implemented to assuage the hardship on millions of Britons: the most prominent of which is the ‘Bedroom Tax’. A thorough calamity of an attempt at social engineering, and pandering to right wing demagogy, that has raised – not decreased – the Housing Benefit bill as residents are forced into more expensive private accommodation, since more ‘suitable’ social housing was not available due to successive governments negligence in replenishing the housing stock. Studies show that the housing benefit bill could reach £25bn by 2017 due to this implementation of the policy. Housing benefits already account for nearly 15% of the welfare budget so this is an alarming trend.

These tax measures, mentioned above, are simple and would not adversely affect the growth forecasts from the OBR, and would likely actually increase GDP growth. This is because Britain already benefits from high business confidence, as it continues to achieve the strongest growth among the G7, and the confidence of foreign governments and multilateral institutions (OECD, World Bank Group) in Britain’s “long term economic plan” – which is why austerity is, unfortunately, a prerequisite for whichever government is in power come May. However at least with the changes delineated above Britain will be able to deliver a smoother transition, with fewer cuts and positive, but prudent, investment: a formula which is sure to produce benefits that all 65 million of us will feel.

Posted in Britain, economy, Politics, tax | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment