In a publication that is reminiscent of the NI Peace Monitoring Reporting, two QUB academics have collated statistics across a range of topics – population, employment, housing, benefits, economy, healthcare, education, crime and social cohesion – in order to dispel (rather than substantiate) some of the myths about migrants.
UKIP’s MLA David McNarry challenged some of the figures in the report on Good Morning Ulster, and introduced some more of his own. Helpfully the report is littered with cross references to the source of statistics (and often URLs) to allow the facts and figures to be verified and if necessary disputed.
In late 2013 …The Sun newspaper hysterically claimed: ‘a tidal wave of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants is threatening to swamp Britain – and flood our overstretched jobs’. The “tidal wave” failed to arrive.
The Challenging Racism report cites a 2010 study on public attitudes towards migrant workers in Northern Ireland which highlighted:
70% of respondents felt that migrants put a strain on services (e.g. social housing, education, and healthcare);
Almost half (48%) of those surveyed felt that migrant workers take jobs away from people born in Northern Ireland.
In parallel, racially-motivated offences are on the up:
Between 2013 and 2014 there has been a 43% increase in racially-motivated offences, with 70% of these occurring in Belfast. During the present reporting period, the PSNI has noted that racially motivated crimes in Northern Ireland have risen by more than 50%.
Northern Ireland has welcomed relatively few newcomers to society. The NI Census from 2011 says that 5% of the population
have a place of origin in England, Scotland and Wales. According to the census, less than 2% of the NI population are from Eastern Europe. are blow ins from
Non-UK and Ireland migrants constitute 3.8% of the population and 4% of the Northern Ireland workforce.
Most migrants in Northern Ireland rent privately and do not claim social housing.
NI Housing Executive figures show that between July 2012 and July 2013, there were 1,032 migrant worker households out of 89,000 households;
Between 2012 and 2013, 1.2% of social housing tenants were migrant workers;
The population of economic migrants at 3.8% is actually under-represented within the social housing stock.
The report argues that myths about ‘welfare scroungers’ and ‘benefit tourism’ can be “debunked by the fact that, in the UK, recent Immigrants are actually 21% less likely than the established population to be receiving benefits”.
Far from being a burden on society, ethnic minority enterprises in the UK contribute £13 billion a year to the British economy. Moreover, it is estimated that migrant workers actually contributed around £1.2 billion to the Northern Irish economy from 2004 to 2008.
Crime proved contentious on Good Morning Ulster with David McNarry quoting figures for migrant convictions without qualifying them with overall percentages or comparisons with other groups of a similar socio-economic banding in the same areas of Northern Ireland.
The report’s authors examined council “wards in Belfast in which at least 10% of the population stated in the 2011 Census that their nationality was neither British nor Irish” and found that they have “generally experienced a fall in crime”.
In 2002 there were 19,287 recorded crimes within these wards. By 2013 the number of offences recorded within those wards fell to 14,636, an overall decline of 24.1%. Only one of the 12 wards witnessed a growth in recorded crime … [Ed – I can think of other well-publicised factors around The Mount that would have affected its crime rate.]
Thus, in places of high in-migration there is no link between rising crime levels and migration. In fact, evidence shows that crime has actually decreased in these areas with higher percentages of migrants.
The report concludes:
Racism is not only morally wrong – the views which attempt to justify it, in terms of ‘threats’ to resources, are also factually wrong. People do have genuine concerns about scarce resources, particularly in times of recession. But we also have to look at the facts and not fall for anti-immigrant scaremongering or myths about migrants ‘taking our jobs’.
It is important that we do not allow socio-economic concerns to manifest as prejudice. When such negative attitudes become ‘acceptable’ in a given context, perpetrators of hate crime can feel that it is therefore ‘OK’ to attack newcomers to Northern Ireland.
Moreover, migration is not threatening ‘our way of life’. To the contrary, our own divisions in Northern Ireland continuously threaten political, economic and social stability. We must accept that Northern Ireland is a changing place.
In this way, there is a stark choice to make between remaining mired in exclusion and division and embracing a more peaceful and prosperous society – which is not only welcoming to newcomers but significantly benefits from them too. [emphasis added]
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.