A report of the OSMC seminar, “Austerity Britain – Seeing beyond the racist scapegoating about housing, health and the labour market.”

Our last seminar was an opportunity to work out how best we can create a powerful, pro multicultural pole of attraction, stop the poisonous use of concessions to racism and prevent the racialisation of British politics.

We live in contradictory times. The far right in Britain has been stopped, for the time being, by the strength of our multicultural society and the campaigning of people across the country. But the era of austerity has led to a resurgence in racism, led by sections of the media and far too many politicians who seek to exploit prejudice and make concessions to racism. 

If the attempt to blame migrants and ethic minority communities for the country’s ills is successful, it will lead to community division, racist violence and could well increase the revival prospects of the far right.  

Our opening speaker, Dr Hannah Lewis, unpicked the facts from the fiction about the impact of migration on the labour market. She emphasised that, “migrants don’t steal jobs, they generate them and that fewer claim benefits and more are employed.” She also pointed out that migrant workers are the victims of a a previous normalisation of below minimum wage pay levels. 

She drew attention to studies which show that migrants have a small negative effect on wages which is concentrated at the lower end of pay, primarily on other migrant workers. 

Hannah underlined that the way forward is to enhance the conditions and rights of all workers through measures such as the implementation of the ‘living wage.’ In the discussion, others also emphasised the importance of making it easier for all workers to join a trade union.

Professor David Robinson looked at the reality behind the headlines on housing. He explained that the housing crisis is the product of 40 years of failure by successive governments. Blaming migrants for the shortage of housing is a convenient political excuse.

David exposed mainstream fictions on housing. He showed that migration does not increase demand and drive up rent levels or house prices. Nor are migrants unfairly advantaged in the allocation of social housing by gaining access ahead of UK citizens. 

David emphasised the “urgent need to shift the focus of attention away from blaming migration for the housing crisis to solving it, so that everyone can gain and sustain a safe and secure home.”

Our final speaker, Akina Andibo Akunda, UNISON Northern General Black Members Officer, highlighted the invaluable contribution made by migrants to the National Health Service. 

Akina said  out that levels of migrant workers has always been high in the NHS with around a quarter of doctors the country’s doctors being born outside the UK. 

She highlighted the institutional racism facing migrant workers as they have been “over represented in the lower pay scales and in the disciplinary process.”

Akina also pointed out that “migrants bring with them a culture of hard work and commitment.” And that too often such dedication has been abused to exploit people. 

She went on to explain how immigration is central to the successful evolution of every country, in every area of life.

The ensuing discussion recognised that those who support a multicultural society and reject racism have to lead the debate, by developing  effective ways to unite people as well as continuing to refute racist myths. 

Please email info@onesheffieldmanycultures.org.uk if you would like information about future OSMC events.