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Britons’ misinterpretations of immigration – why they need to know the truth from politicians

Over the festive period, immigration has again been in the headlines.  The holiday of Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, was shortened as he had to preside over a meeting with the National Crime Agency and Border Agency, because of the arrival of about 100 immigrants on the beaches of the south east of UK. This was referred to as a “crisis”, a “major incident”, a further example of how the media and political eloquence lead to misunderstandings.  This impacts strongly on Brexit and feelings on immigration as a majority of UK voters wanted to leave the EU.


Because these misunderstandings happen frequently, not much attention is paid to them although it should be. We should be more persistent in answering back by means of a better and more truthful view of migration.


We get a lot wrong


The misconceptions occur in several areas. 


Firstly, in surveys, the actual amount of immigrants in UK is about half of what was thought to be by Britons. They also thought that the figure of immigrants from the EU was almost 3 times more than the reality.


Secondly, there was a misconception with immigrant type where it was felt that most were asylum seekers and refugees, in reality, the smallest number. This arises as the media concentrate on the most extreme cases rather than the more common areas of study, be with family, work.


A most important misconception concerns effect of immigration with many believing that it increases the levels of crime, impairs NHS quality and leads to more unemployment of skilled workers. Evidence shows this to be untrue.


So why do we get so much wrong? The cause-effect relationship is complex. What we worry about, we tend to overestimate and vice versa.  Our overestimates of levels of immigration are a sign of concern as much as a precisely determined reality estimate. Emotions affect reality so just trying to eradicate the myths, will not be enough.


Another reason is due to the feeling that British society is moving too quickly. To correct the misreading of facts, it is not enough to show the positive aspects of immigration.


Don’t avoid the facts


However, these two reasons are not enough for a positive case based on facts to take on the misconceptions. It is ok to be worried about the effects of immigration on culture but politicians should not refrain from speaking about other benefits and their evidence. The problem is really a lack of political courage and this goes back to years of Labour governments.


There have been different approaches to discussion of immigration. In 2000s, not much was said or noted to have been said, which was disastrous as people believed there was not enough discussion on the topic. Then by 2011, quite a small percentage felt it was being talked about too much.


Yet creating a positive case is not impossible, an example being Scotland’s first minister’s appeal to “national self- interest” showing the benefits of immigrants to an ageing population. However, in the UK as a whole, there is a lack of the case being made at all by any major political voices and the tragedy of this is that it is not a reflection of public opinion and its variety in UK. It is more subtle, more balanced and more positive towards immigration than we are led to believe.  It is time for the truth and trust.