Although politicians and the media have made the publication of Census data into a major event, for most us it has not been such breaking news as we have seen these changes happening slowly around us over the last ten years. Nevertheless, it is interesting to hear about the overall trends: the decline in marriage and house ownership, changes in religious belief and affiliation and of course the rise in immigration.
Where ever immigration goes, controversy seems to follow and this is the case with the way in which the anti-immigration lobby are spinning the new census data. This is certainly not a public debate as that would involve an “interactive and representational argument”.
[h3]Here are a few tabloid headlines:[/h3]
“Less than 90 per cent of country is white for the first time ever”– screams the Daily Mail.
“For the first time in history, the proportion of “white British” people living in the capital has fallen below one in two” – says The Sun.
“Immigration on this scale is completely unacceptable to the vast majority of the public and is obviously unsustainable” – claims MigrationWatch.
“A HUGE surge in migration has caused the number of foreigners living in the UK to almost double to 7.5 million in just 10 years” – shouts The Daily Express.
And the Daily Telegraph rounds it up today with the following headline:
“Curbing mass immigration could bring down house prices, Theresa May says. Mass immigration needs to be curbed to bring down house prices, improve wages and reduce the benefits bill, Theresa May has said.”
[h3]And from the Welcome Committee…[/h3]
After you’ve digested the above responses to the publication of some of the data from the 2011 census for England and Wales, below are clever, thoughtful and progressive comments that are out there too, like these in the Guardian:
“2011 Census: good news, bad news or both? Whether you are delighted or alarmed by the changes in England and Wales probably depends on your own experiences”
“Census shows a changing of the guard in Britain. What the 2011 figures prove is that the photo-op image of Team GB as a changing nation of many hues is demographic reality”
“The 2011 census shows a people at ease with diversity. Politicians must catch up. The population of England and Wales has been changed by immigration in 10 years. Time for a new political narrative.”
The practical problem we face is that these labels – foreign born, White British, Non-White population, non-UK passport holder – do not tell much about our lives. Yes, they are definitions that reflect a lot of our experience of everyday life and our corresponding physical characteristics will affect the opportunities that are not available if you look or sound a bit ‘foreign’.
From our experience at The Forum, just knowing someone’s place of birth, immigration status, nationality/citizenship, ethnicity and skin colour does not tell us very much about their needs and issues. The category of ‘foreign born’ in Kensington and Chelsea refers equally to the rich Russian oligarchs as well as the young refugees from Sudan. They do not have much in common and are probably blissfully unaware of the media panic about census numbers while they go about their daily business: the young Sudanese refugee is still trying to learn English and get a job and the rich Russian is still struggling to get planning permission to build swimming pool in his basement.
The census is not really as scary as the anti-immigration lobby makes it out to be. Immigrants, foreign born, non-white – whatever you call us – we are already here, going on quietly about our business, integrating as we go. We come from hundreds of different countries and do not function as an organic group. The tabloids’ fear mongering about migrants taking over Britain is unjustified and completely imaginary.
What can be said is that generally migrants, refugees, black and ethnic minority groups are fragmented, unorganised and largely disempowered by the daily experience of discrimination and exclusion, exacerbated by a continual barrage from the right wing press reminding us how we do not belong and can never.
I leave you with another Guardian Comment headline:
There’s more to diversity than statistics. We need change at the top. The census captures Britain’s diversity. Now how about changing a few key institutions to reflect the country’s makeup?
[h3]And if everything else fails we can always count on 176,000 Jedi Knights to come and save us all.[/h3]