Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Social housing and immigration: the continuing lies of the right

It has long been asserted by the conservative and fascist end of the immigration debate that immigrants and asylum seekers are "jumping the queue" for social housing and are favoured over native Britons. Yesterday, a report compiled by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found the precise opposite. As the report itself explains;
Analysis of social housing allocation policies showed no evidence that social housing allocation favours foreign migrants over UK citizens. But there is a small amount of evidence which suggests that they may, unintentionally, discriminate against ethnic minority communities who may also have less understanding than white groups, of their housing rights and housing allocation.
Of course, those who had long asserted the opposite weren't quick to admit that they were wrong. The Daily Mail, long the champion of overt distrust of immigrant communities, reported the news by stating that "one in ten state-subsidised homes is occupied by an immigrant family, according to the first estimate of the impact of immigration on social housing." Although this is ostensibly true, it sidesteps the fact that the premise they have fed on for so long - "queue jumping" - was a false one. The Mail coverage offered a single dismissive line to the fact that "the report insisted that there is no prejudice against the existing population in the decisions over who gets increasingly scarce homes," but no further comment, nor acknowledgement of error, was deemed necessary on the central premise of the report they were writing about.

The BNP, meanwhile, does make an attempt at debating the central issue rather than pretending that it is inconsequential. However, the party fails to avoid their usual fallbacks of non-sequiturs, ad hominems, and outright distortion. Once we get
past the usual totalitarian accusations of "anti-white" and "anti-British," and the assumption that "Labour Party-affiliated" is an automatic disqualifier of debate, the party states the following;
A report entitled “Britain’s Immigrants, An economic profile”, produced by the IPPR in September 2007 for Class Films and Channel 4 Dispatches, shows that huge numbers of immigrants living in Britain are in social housing, contrary to the EHRC’s claims.
The report cited above does indeed show that "80% of Somalis, 49% of Turks, 41% of Bangladeshis, 39% of Ghanaians, 35% of Jamaicans, 33% of Iranians, 29% of Nigerians, 21% of Ugandans, 20% of Zimbabweans, 15% of Filipinos, 15% of Pakistanis, 14% of Sri Lankans, 12% of Kenyans, and 9% of Chinese immigrants live in public housing." However, like the Mail, the BNP is focusing on something which appears negative but, in fact, doesn't have any bearing on the report's central premise - namely, that there is "no evidence that social housing allocation favours foreign migrants over UK citizens." Also, with regard to the above figures, the 2007 report's conclusions from the evidence are as important as the figures themselves;
Of those groups that are more likely to be living in social housing than the UK-born, many are eligible on the grounds that they are naturalised British citizens or, in the case of the Somali and Turkish-born, recognised refugees.

...

It is essential to look beyond the statistics to look at the reasons for groups’ differential contributions. The relatively low rankings of Somalis, for example, may be down to the fact that many newcomers came to the UK as asylum seekers (and probably did not have the right to work while their claim was/is being processed), may not speak English, have few easily transferable skills, and have been housed in deprived areas. Similarly, at the other end of the rankings, Americans may be doing very well because they are mostly elite business people and professionals who are often here to work for short periods. It is therefore important to consider the reasons why migrants are here before we decide whether to judge their contribution solely in economic terms.

...

Several groups seem to be struggling to improve economic outcomes across generations. Children of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Turkish and Somali ethnicity achieve below-average results in British schools. This is perhaps because these groups tend to be concentrated in relatively deprived areas which have under-performing schools, making it difficult for them to break out of cycles of under-performance (Bhattacharyya et al 2003). Poor educational performance may also be related to the fact that parents from these groups tend to be more concentrated in lower social classes than immigrants from other countries, since research indicates that social class is a key determinant of educational development and performance (Gillborn and Mirza 2000, McCallum and Demie 2001, Hansen and Joshi 2007).
Thus, we must take into consideration not just the "economic terms" and "country of origin," but also their migration status and "social class." For example, amongst Somalis, "many newcomers came to the UK as asylum seekers (and probably did not have the right to work while their claim was/is being processed), may not speak English, have few easily transferable skills, and have been housed in deprived areas" and that "these groups tend to be concentrated in relatively deprived areas which have under-performing schools, making it difficult for them to break out of cycles of under-performance," making initial conclusions of "queue jumping" erroneous.

Social housing is allocated on need rather than on who gets to the office first, as is expected in a fair system, and thus putting "british people first" actually would be queue jumping. However, the BNP try to argue the exact opposite conclusion, saying that as "social housing is allocated on the basis of ‘need’ and specifically the size of the family which is seeking accommodation" immigrants with large families "will automatically ‘queue jump’ for social housing over indigenous British people who have fewer or no children" and those with no income (often because they are denied the right to work) "will also automatically ‘queue jump’ these groups over those who are working." This is akin to arguing that somebody who enters A&E with a gunshot wound and is treated instantly has "queue-jumped" over somebody waiting to be treated for a broken wrist and requires no further comment.

The BNP end with the following;
Finally, the most compelling argument against the false EHRC claims lies in the fact that the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has seen fit to announce a ‘policy change’ in social housing to give preference to local populations over immigrants. Effectively Mr Brown was admitting that the previous policy was to discriminate against British people in favour of immigrants - otherwise why the need for the policy change?
But, as amply demonstrated many times over, this move by Gordon Brown is easily explained in terms of a propaganda model. Debate on immigration in the mainstream media - reflecting elite circles - is limited to a very specific framework.

At the conservative end of the spectrum, the position is that immigration controls are "too soft" and that migration is a "threat" or "invasion" that must be "curbed" and "controlled" so that it serves our needs but doesn't "erode our culture" or "destroy our way of life." The fascist position is merely the logical extension of this stance. At the liberal end of the spectrum, meanwhile, we hear that immigration is neccesary, and multiculturalism is to be celebrated because we are "enriched" by such "diversity." Though, of course, it must be "managed" to fit our "skills gaps," because immigrants do the jobs that the native working class “do not want” or are “too lazy” to do, and their lower price benefits the economy and thus us all.

Thus, we must celebrate the "multiculturalism" that allows the immigrant workforce to be exploited at low cost and high profit whilst being cautious of the "invasion" by locking up asylum seekers in immigrant prisons and foisting a system of brutality upon the wretched displaced of the world. The liberal position sees big business "enriched" by a "diverse" workforce whilst the conservative stance uses the "threat" of an immigration "invasion" to divide the working class along racial and national lines so they are unable to do anything about it.

Gordon Brown's pledge, then, to "reform social housing allocation - enabling local authorities to give more priority to local people whose names have been on waiting lists for far too long" fits neatly into such a propaganda framework. Far from "admitting that the previous policy was to discriminate against British people in favour of immigrants," Brown was playing to the fear of such a policy for political gain.

As long as the opposite is believed however, then the propaganda model will continue to set the terms of debate - unwittingly aided by the lies of fascists promoting their own hateful agenda. If that is the case, then the real issues behind immigration - the brutal system of border controls and immigrant prisons, the lack of neccesary infrastructure in local communities, the division of the working class on racial lines, and that this division allows for corporate exploitation of migrant groups to undercut native groups - will never be resolved.