AGENDA: Time to Explode Bias for Immigrants Myth; Immigration Is Back at the Top of the Political Agenda. This Is What Trevor Phillips, Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Had to Say on the Subject during His Speech at a Conference in Birmingham Yesterday
Byline: Trevor Phillips: Fairness, equality and the integrated society
Ethnic minority groups are expected to grow from nine per cent to 11 per cent of the British population by end of next decade. But that growth will be different from past decades. We will have more different kinds of people - in 1991 nine census categories seemed excessive; now even the 17 used in 2001 look crude.
Today, one in four British babies has a foreign parent. Latest figures from the ONS tell us population will increase to 65 million by 2015 and 71 million by 2030, largely driven by immigration.
The House of Commons science and technology select committee has said that by 2030 the number could be 83 million. It's worth saying that we have never before hit the estimates - but the trend is clear.
The point is that in a free society we cannot do much about any of this. The question rather is how to deal with the trend.
People know this and have little doubt about its importance. That is why when you ask, the issues that emerge at the top of the public's concerns today are immigration and care for the elderly. It is why you today are rightly registering concern about the effect of migration on your ability to serve your communities. And it is one reason why I welcome the remarks made by the Leader of the Conservative Party earlier this week. about population increase.
Mr Cameron, in summary, argued that population growth, though broadly positive, has to be planned for many decades ahead - a novel defence of socialist planning from a Tory leader. He cited several factors that are leading to new pressures on communities - changes in family life, household formation, higher life expectancy and immigration. Most importantly, his language suggests that he would very much like to deracialise the issue of immigration - to treat it like any other question of political and economic management.
I am not naive about this. Mr Cameron is a politician. He knows that Britain is a country now largely unsympathetic to an immigration policy based largely on racial division. Understandably he wants to drain the issue of immigration of the racial toxicity which it has held for his party for some 40 years. He has a big task.
For most of my lifetime immigration has been code for a racial question - Mr Howard's sly 'Are you thinking what I'm thinking?', Mrs Thatcher's talk of swamping and of course Mr Powell's rivers of blood.
But every journey must begin with a single step, and if this particular Conservative Party leader wants to repudiate that legacy it would be wrong of us not recognise this as a turning point in British politic s, one that could allow us to normalise debate on this vital issue and prevent it standing as a constant threat to community relations.
But to use yet another cliche, one swallow does not make a summer.
In seven months' time parties go to the polls in London and euro elections. Conventional parties will face opposition from outright racists. I know that our Commission will be asked for guidance as the CRE was, and we will gladly try to clarify the law for local authorities who are running elections as to where legitimate political campaigning crosses the line to outright racism.
But we think that in the end the best discipline on these matters must come from political parties themselves. If decent politicians can re sist the temptation to deal with the far right by moving on to their ground between now and May 1st, then the political air of our country next summer will be fresher and sweeter than it has been for a generation. The test of Mr Cameron's - and Mr Brown's and Mr Clegg/Huhne's commitment isn't really what they say but what their troops do.
Having said all that, though Mr Cameron was right to focus on the prosperity that new migrants bring, all our politicians have more to do. Mr Cameron is, I guess, asking the 21st century question about immigration. But unfortunately he is giving a 20th century answer in proposing that all of these issues can be solved by capping net immigration numbers.
Both past research by the CRE and new research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission which we will reveal this month show that though people care less about the race of migrants than they used to - that's a good thing - they do care about the way in which new migrants fit in; migrants want to be treated as equals, and not face discrimination. But above all everyone wants things done fairly.
So I want to say a few words about three issues - fairness, equality and the integrated society.
Everyone knows resources for housing, health services, transport and so on are limited. But people are realistic, and these days accept that we need to share them with migrants. What, however does drive tension and hostility is a widespread public perception, that new migrants too often get an unfair advantage to which they are not entitled.
And one area where this idea of unfairness is most frequently alleged is in housing allocation. Specifically that white families are cheated out of their right to social housing by newly arrived migrants.
So what is true? To date I have never seen any reliable evidence to back up this claim. And there can be no doubt that much of the public feeling is driven by careless media and racist parties. But I don't think that it's enough merely to dismiss the suggestion. I think that rather than appearing to suppress the debate we really need to inform it with robust, independent evidence. We will never combat prejudice with silence; as Charles Dickens' Councillor Thomas Gradgrind might say: "What we want, sir, is facts!".
So I want to propose that between us, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and you the Local Government Association, we commission the best independent study we can by dispassionate academics on whether the housing system is being abused to the detriment of anyone - including white families. If there is evidence that it is, then we have the powers and the mandate to stop the abuse and we will do so. If there is no evidence, then we can properly say that this insinuation should play no part in next year's elections.
The second thing we care about is equality.
From the Commission's perspective, it is clear that the people who suffer the most from the pressures of population growth on infrastructure are the poorest people, in the most deprived areas. Yes, we need to find ways to capitalise on the injection of energy that new migrants bring, and to bolster our infrastructure and public services to cope with new demands.
But when our infrastructure creaks, apparently because of unexpected new arrivals, it exacerbates inequality, and this has a collateral impact on community relations, leading to fragmentation and segregation. I fully understand those pressures. White Hart Lane school in Tottenham, which Mr Cameron cited in his speech as an example of the "immense pressures" faced by local authorities is the school that I went to myself over four decades ago, and I still live in the same borough.
But a general cap on migrant numbers will do little to solve its problems. Shutting out the underachieving Pakistani, Turkish or Somali newcomers also locks out the hugely overa-chieving Indian or Chinese star pupil; and a cap would have little impact on the most worrying emergent group of underperformers - poorer white boys.
The right response surely is to meet head-on the challenges of rapid and diverse population growth.
That is why we support the LGA's argument today that extra funding in the form of a pounds 250 million contingency fund should be given to areas that experience rapid population change. This will ensure that the money being generated by new migrants - some pounds 40 billion according to the LGA report - finds its way back down to the local level.
And in channelling money back into mainstream services, such as housing, education, information and advice services, it will help local authorities deliver equality and fairness at precisely the time when they are coming under the most pressure.
Ultimately, the important issue - for all the parties, for local government and for us as a Commission - is to build an integrated society - something we will never create as long as there is a perception of unfair advantage and over-stretched resources.
Tomorrow: The Tory view
For most of my lifetime immigration has been code for a racial question - Mr Howard's sly 'Are you thinking what I'm thinking?', Mrs Thatcher's talk of swamping and of course Mr Powell's rivers of blood…
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Publication information: Article title: AGENDA: Time to Explode Bias for Immigrants Myth; Immigration Is Back at the Top of the Political Agenda. This Is What Trevor Phillips, Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Had to Say on the Subject during His Speech at a Conference in Birmingham Yesterday. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Birmingham Post (England). Publication date: November 2, 2007. Page number: 10. © 2009 Birmingham Post & Mail Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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