In an interesting article, (see below) first published on the Society pages of the Guardian, Lisa Mckenzie writes unless the government acts the current refugee crisis will hit hardest the working class communities of Britain, and they cannot be expected to take the full strain of welcoming Syrian Refugees. I can hear some folk cry hang on no one expects this, but if you look at which communities have taken in most new migrants to the UK over the last two decades it is not difficult to see she has a point.
My own borough Thurrock has changed beyond recognition during that period. In my view it is all the better for it, but the downside of welcoming so many newcomers into our communities is the stresses it puts on resources. Especially when the host community is already under a vicious and unnecessary onslaught of government cuts.
Our schools are already over subscribed as are GPs surgeries, and unless there are extenuating circumstance the waiting list for a council house can now be upwards of ten years. Private rents due to the housing shortage have begun to spiral out of control, placing more and more families into rent arrears with the horror of homelessness on the horizon making them sick with worry. Why the Tory Government does not cap rents instead of Housing Benefit show where its true loyalties lie. With the cuts to tax credits which helped low paid families keep the wolf from the door due to be enforced in April 2016, it makes it inevitable that more and more people will be resorting to food banks and taking out loans they will be unable to repay.
Which in the fourth riches nation in the world is a national scandal that shames the UK government in the wider world.
Thurrock has always welcomed newcomers. Few people here can trace back their family roots to the borough more than a handful of generations so how could we not?Whereever we came from, within Britain or further afield, once we set down roots many of us end up calling it home.
However when I travel to many parts of England, unless they're tourists they often seem devoid of newcomers. Areas like Chipping Norton for instance, where Cameron has one of his three homes, you mainly see and hear white faces speaking English. It is high time these communities also stepped up to the plate,
Areas like Thurrock I'm sure will continue to welcome newcomers, whether asylum seekers or not, but central government need to recognises the stress this puts on local resources. Its hight time they stumped up the extra cash so the necessary services can be provided adequately to all those who use them. The current sticking plaster and charity solution is no longer a viable option, if it ever was.
|Cameron's unused home.|
Nimbyism has never been our style in Thurrock but we will not be put upon by a Prime Minister who far too often talks the talk, but fails to walk the walk himself. Due to his grace and favour home at 10 Downing Street his mansion near Chipping Norton stands almost empty, as do many of the second homes of his so called ‘Chipping Norton Set.'
There are enough empty rooms in these houses to house many refugee families. It would be nice if just for once the PM lead by example instead of expecting us to do what he says, not what he does.
As Liz points out, the prime minister expects people who live in communities like Thurrock to share what they have, which most do willingly, while he and people like him do nothing and then feel they have the right to judge us when we complain about the pressures this is putting on our communities.
It's just not on.
The refugee crisis will hit the UK’s working class areas hardest.
By Lisa McKenzie
As a researcher focusing for more than a decade on inequality and the stigmatisation of working-class people and communities, particularly connected to council estates, I fear what will follow this summer’s refugee crisis. Harrowing images of people being packed into trains, and children’s bodies washed up on beaches has led to an almost involuntary reaction to offer help among European people who still live with the legacies of the 1939-45 war. As a result, the government policy U-turn means that Britain can now take in refugees and the chancellor, George Osborne, has announced that some of the £12bn international aid budget can be offered to local councils to help house refugees in the UK.
During the early 2000s, refugees arrived and settled in Britain from many wartorn places, most of our making. At the time, I was working with a group of women living on a council estate in Nottingham who were becoming increasingly worried about the number of what they called “asylum seekers” living in an already very poor and under-resourced neighbourhood.
The tensions on the estate had been rising for some time due to housing waiting lists, the lack of housing, and the length of time people were waiting to see a GP. Although the women did not blame the asylum seekers exclusively, they could see the added pressure on services.
But they told me that they were most unhappy and frightened that every day, as they walked through the precinct, a group of men they referred to as “Iraqis” were constantly asking them for “business”, meaning sex. It happened to me on several occasions. The women felt angry and disrespected at these incidents.
One woman told me that she and a group of women had “battered” (physically attacked) “one of the Iraqi asylum seekers” for asking to buy sex from one of the women’s 15-year-old daughter. When I spoke to this woman about it, she said: “Why should we be the only ones having to put up with this?”
My research over many years in poor and structurally disadvantaged community’s shows clearly that fear and anger are ever present. The constant competition for limited resources, whether social and physical, like housing and state benefits, or symbolic resources, such as value and respect, generate an acute anxiety among communities that are being squeezed by a government.
The women I was working with in Nottingham were aware of how accusations of white working-class racism are played with by politicians, the media and the do-gooders, as they called teachers and social workers – the people who, they knew, never had to put up with this. They were careful about what they said, and who they complained to, about those they called the Iraqis.
Migration has always been a strong feature of working-class communities in British cities, and a feature that those communities are proud of and celebrate. In St Ann’s in Nottingham, we are very proud of our connections to Jamaica and to Ireland; both cultures are celebrated and have over time merged into what I have called “Being St Ann’s”.
I now live in Tower Hamlets in east London and have recently been undertaking ethnographic research with local white working-class women. They have been interested to know what I think about the refugees. They didn’t want to tell me what they thought until they knew I wouldn’t judge them. These women are proud to live in Bethnal Green and are proud of the neighbourhood’s Jewish and Bengali connections. However they also live under constant threat of being moved out of the borough where they have lived all their lives, as rents rise and homes become more scarce. They are anxious about who else will move into their neighbourhood and whether these refugees will be “given” an affordable home, when they live day to day not knowing if they and their children will be able to stay.
The women in Nottingham and in Bethnal Green are fully aware of the pressures on the limited resources within their neighbourhoods, and they know they are expected to share the very little they have, while others may stand in judgment of their complaints. They see this as something else they have no control over. The dominant narrative in Britain for working-class people is about feeling powerless, having no say, being disrespected, and having accusations of ignorance, small-mindedness and racism thrown at you if you point out that your neighbourhood can’t take much more. These feelings of uncertainty about territory, status and power where material rewards are unevenly distributed and are continually shifting, leave people on insecure ground, which encourages the erection of boundaries. These can be physical, as we see in our government erecting fences, but boundary erection can be symbolic and social, where we see people as different, a threat to our way of living, a drain on our resources.
Over the last 20 years, and especially during New Labour’s modernising project, poor, working-class communities have looked for other representation, sometimes in the form of Ukip. Sometimes they have removed themselves from the debate altogether and become inward focusing. As refugees start to come into Britain, tired and desperate, politicians from left or right, local or national, must not be allowed to make political capital from their situation, and from the people already struggling in poor communities.
The women of Nottingham said to me in 2005 “we don’t begrudge anyone a roof who needs it”, but at the core of suspicion and fear of the “other” is the lack of resources. The consequence of austerity measures is that working-class families all over Britain have found themselves struggling to stay in their homes, to feed and clothe their families, and to keep warm. As people are being evicted from their homes because of the bedroom tax, and hundreds of thousands socially cleansed out of parts of London, Bristol and Manchester because the land they live on is worth more than they are, we cannot allow local councils and private landlords to profit from Osborne’s offer to fund homes for refugees in Britain. Last week the head of Barnet council, in north London, asked private landlords to offer properties for rent that will be paid for by the EU. This is the same council that residents of Sweets Way housing estate have been fighting – in order to be housed and allowed to stay in the borough after their homes were sold to a private property developer.
Our response must be that all social inequality is unjust. We must turn our anger on to those ideologues who promote austerity measures, social cleansing and a policy of profit before people, and not on to each other, whether the others are Syrian refugees needing a place of safety, or poor British working-class mothers living on council estates and struggling to get by. I am not religious at all but I have always enjoyed stories and my favourite parable is the Widow’s Mite – a widow donates only two small coins, while the wealthy people of Jerusalem donate large amounts of their wealth, Jesus explains that the widow gives everything she has while the wealthy are extravagant and showy – consequently it is those that have the least who often give the most but it is often difficult to recognise.
While the wealthy and the powerful make grand gestures of buying islands and giving homes, and the liberal left offer their spare rooms, in reality it will be the working-class people of Britain who will share the little they have.
First published here