High Immigration Is Harming Britain’s Poor, Says Minister

Large-scale immigration has damaged the poorest communities and deeply unsettled the country, Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, says today. Mr Byrne says that inequality and child poverty are two of the main side-effects of migration, which has been running at record levels since Labour came to power.

He also highlights the pressures caused by migration on schools and housing, and how they are affecting attempts to improve educational standards. Mr Byrne makes his remarks before publication tomorrow of official figures showing net migration of 185,000 in 2005, four times the figure when Labour came to power in 1997.

He tells his party that if Labour fails to address public concern about the level of immigration, and its effects on the country and public services, it could lose the next general election.

The scale of net migration has caused a marked change in public concern about immigration, Mr Byrne says. Globalisation and immigration have made Britain richer but have also “deeply unsettled the country”, he writes in a pamphlet titled Rethinking Immigration and Integration, published by Policy Network, a centre-left think-tank.

He says: “We also have to accept that laissez-faire migration runs the risk of damaging communities where parts of our antipoverty strategy come under pressure.”

Mr Byrne says sudden increases in immigration into poor parts of Britain hit government attempts to improve life for the indigenous population. “When a junior school such as the school in Hodge Hill, my own constituency in Birmingham, sees its population of children with English as a second language rise from 5 per cent to 20 per cent in a year, then boosting standards in our poorest communities gets harder,” he says.

Mr Byrne says existing communities were not sure that change arising from immigration had been fair. He says the speed of migration meant that public services in some communities had found it difficult to change as quickly as the communities around them are changing.

“It is true that a small number of schools have struggled to cope, that some local authorities have reported problems of overcrowding in private housing and that there have been cost pressures on English language training, but the answer is in action that is simultaneously firm and fair.”

Last month research published by the Home Office said that thousands of impoverished asylum-seekers had been dumped in socially deprived areas of the country under the Government’s dispersal policy.

The study found they were met with resistance from local people, racial harassment and racist attacks. Their arrival also had a significant impact on local health and education services. It said placing asylum-seekers in poorer areas of the country, such as Everton, Glasgow, Tyneside and parts of Manchester, had accentuated existing deprivation among the indigenous population.

The report, which was produced in 2002 but only released under freedom of information laws last month, highlighted some of the difficulties caused by the arrival of new migrants in poor areas.

Fifty different languages had been introduced into Newcastle upon Tyne, and in other areas doctors dealing with new migrants experienced difficulties treating unfamiliar diseases such as malaria and TB.

A health centre in Liverpool found that there were 24 different languages spoken by asylum-seeking patients.

In a separate article in today’s pamphlet, Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham and a deputy leadership candidate, says that the communities undergoing the most rapid demographic change because of migration are the most poorly equipped to deal with it as they suffer high levels of poverty, social immobility and poor public services. John Reid, the Home Secretary, met the French Interior Minister yesterday and raised the issue of a centre being built offering showers, information and food to migrants gathering in Sangatte, northern France.

The Conservatives fear that the building will act as a magnet for those seeking to enter Britain illegally.

Net Migration

  • 1996 – 54,100
  • 1997 – 46,800
  • 1998 – 138,800
  • 1999 – 163,000
  • 2000 – 162,800
  • 2001 – 171,800
  • 2002 – 153,400
  • 2003 – 151,000
  • 2004 – 222,600
  • 2005 – 185,000

Source: Home Office