Little purple lies: UKIP’s racist misinformation

Like most Brightonians I have recently come home to find a UKIP leaflet on my doormat. Unfortunately UKIP had cancelled their Freepost address before I thought to send it back wrapped around a brick or a week’s worth of other assorted rubbish. In this leaflet, UKIP make a number of very bold claims about immigration, the kind of claims that are – unfortunately – uniform in most political spheres. The problem with these mainstream narratives (and it’s a big problem) is that they are not backed up by any evidence. Depressingly, UKIP are not expected to back up these claims; this is because they are myths that have been repeated again and again by all the mainstream parties. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has been particularly strident in trying to prove that Labour are just as anti-immigrant and anti-immigration as the other parties. Writing after Labour’s electoral defeat in 2010 he wrote that, because of eastern European immigration, “there has also been a direct impact on the wages, terms and conditions of too many people across our country”. [1]

The idea that immigration is the cause of low wages and high unemployment is now so widespread that in the public eye, it has moved from the realm of theory to fact. With this in mind, after receiving my UKIP leaflet, rather than thrashing around indignantly on the kitchen floor, ripping it up, shouting ‘LIES! LIES! LIES!’, I went looking for some facts (those elusive things that UKIP seem to consider irrelevant). Surprise, surprise – UKIP are lying.

Myth 1, “Unlimited immigration costs British jobs”

Academic studies indicate that immigration is not a key determining factor in levels of unemployment. An Oxford University survey of a range of research found that “Research does not find a significant impact of overall immigration on unemployment in the UK”[2]. As Jonathan Wadsworth, of Royal Holloway College and the government’s independent Migration Advisory Committee, has said: “It is hard to find evidence of much displacement of UK workers or lower wages, on average.”[3] Just as it would be false to claim that the 20% unemployment figure of 1930 was a result of low immigration so too would it be false to claim that the present unemployment figures which stand at 6.9% are a result of high immigration. The assumption cultivated by the political mainstream is that there are a fixed number of jobs in a national economy and the movement of workers from one country to another reduces the number of jobs in that country. Numerous studies refute this including “Card’s (1990) influential case study of the Mariel immigrant flow. On April 20, 1980, Fidel Castro declared that Cuban nationals wishing to move to the United States could leave freely. By September 1980, about 125,000 Cubans had chosen to undertake the journey. Almost overnight, the Mariel “natural experiment” increased Miami’s labor force by 7 percent. Card’s (1990) analysis of the CPS data indicates that labor market trends in Miami between 1980 and 1985 in terms of wage levels and unemployment rates were similar to those experienced by such cities as Los Angeles, Houston and Atlanta, cities that did not experience the Mariel supply shock.”[4] The fact is that while immigration may in some cases increase competition for jobs it may also creates jobs by increasing demand for goods and services.

Myth 2 “Cheap labour pushes down British wages”

“Empirical research on the labour market effects of immigration in the UK suggests that immigration has relatively small effects on average wages”[5]. The evidence on this subject is, however, inconclusive. “Dustmann, Frattini and Preston (2008) find that an increase in the number of migrants corresponding to one percent of the UK-born working-age population resulted in an increase in average wages of 0.2 to 0.3 percent. Another study, for the period 2000-2007, found that a one percentage point increase in the share of migrants in the UK’s working-age population lowers the average wage by 0.3 percent (Reed and Latorre 2009). These studies, which relate to different time periods, thus reach opposing conclusions but they agree that the effects of immigration on average wages are relatively small.”[6] So the research indicates immigration can improve wages and also lower them but the effect is minute either way. Inflation rose by 18% from 2007 to 2012 yet wages only rose 10%,[7] this gap of 8% could never be caused by immigration yet you will struggle to find a single voice in parliament that will ask why bosses continually drive down wages below inflation.

Myth 3 “Schools, health, welfare are under pressure”

Strictly speaking not a myth. Schools, health and welfare are all under pressure. This statement however comes under the only referenced claim on the whole page; that 4,000 people a week come to Britain from the EU. The implication is a straightforward one, that immigrants are a ‘drain’ on public services. Aside from the fact that this plays on some of the worst and most xenophobic stereotypes about immigrants it is incorrect. Immigrants actually contribute more in terms of taxes that they receive in terms of services. “In 2008/9 migrants contributed 0.96 per cent of total tax receipts and accounted for only 0.6 per cent of total expenditures”[8] “Another study, carried out by researchers at UCL, found that new migrants were 60 per cent less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and 58 per cent less likely to live in social housing.”[9]

With this in mind we must accept that UKIP are full of shit and know it or are simply unaware. I think the reality is a mix of the two. The political mainstream through prejudice and Machiavellian logic has been scapegoating immigrants for all manner of problems right back to the aliens act of 1905, designed to keep Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe from entering the UK. So much misinformation has been spread for so long that those who peddle it believe it themselves.

As Daniel Trilling of the New Humanist has said, “The problem – as always – is that the politicians leading the anti-UKIP charge are the ones that created the conditions that gave rise to it”. The conditions that UKIP are preying on are low wages, unemployment, and the pressure on schools, welfare and health. These conditions – although none of the mainstream parties, least of all UKIP, will mention it – are the direct result of 35 years of neoliberalism. Thatcher started the project of undermining unions, slashing workers rights and wages and privatisation. The project was continued by Labour and now the Con-Dems. All the main parties are wedded to neoliberalism, a project which places profits for big business ahead of the freedom and lives of the working class. Anger about unemployment poor wages and squeezes on services is widespread. All the mainstream parties represent the interests of big business and are therefore unwilling to attribute unemployment and poor working conditions to those who employ or dictate the working conditions; big business. These parties however require votes from workers and to get them they blame the problems people face on immigrants, the unemployed and the disabled.

Left Unity are proud to say that we will never pander to the racist scapegoating employed by the right wing media and the political mainstream we state clearly in our policy that “Immigration controls divide and weaken the working class and are therefore against the interests of all workers.”[10] We must keep pointing out the lies and hypocrisy of UKIP and the other mainstream parties but we must also continue fighting for an alternative kind of politics. A socialist politics that puts people before profits and rejects the myths that are spread by the establishment to divide the working class.

This article originally appeared on the Brighton & Hove Left Unity site. If you are in that area and would like to find out more about Left Unity, they are holding a public launch meeting on 3 June 2014 at the Friends Meeting House. Facebook event page: ‘Beyond the spirit of ’45: Why we need a new Left party’

[1]Balls, Ed. “We were wrong to allow so many eastern Europeans into Britain”. The Observer. London: The Guardian. June 6, 2010. Print.

[2]DR Martin Ruhs DR Carlos Vargas-Silva. “Briefing: The Labour Market Effects of Immigration” . The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. March 2014.

[3] Jonathan Wadsworth. “Immigration and the UK Labour Market: The Evidence from Economic Research”. Centre for economic performance. LSE. London. 2010.

[4] George J. Borjas. “The Economic Analysis Of Immigration”. Handbook of labour economics. Volume 3. Part A. 1999.

[5]DR Martin Ruhs DR Carlos Vargas-Silva. “Briefing: The Labour Market Effects of Immigration” . The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. March 2014.

[6]DR Martin Ruhs DR Carlos Vargas-Silva. “Briefing: The Labour Market Effects of Immigration” . The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. March 2014.

[7] BBC. “Average earnings rise by 1.4% to £26,500, says ONS”. November 2012.

[8]James Bloodworth, “Did immigration really ‘depress the wages and job chances of working class Britons’?”. Left foot forward. April 2013.

[9]James Bloodworth, “Did immigration really ‘depress the wages and job chances of working class Britons’?”. Left foot forward. April 2013.

[10] 2014.