The UK’s obsession with immigrants and benefit cheats shows the cowardice rooted deep in our national psyche.
There is legitimacy in the concern that large immigration numbers might impact on the economy and quality of life for working families in the UK. Equally, it is easy to understand the upset caused by working our fingers to the bone while others fraudulently claim benefits.
But if immigrants and benefit cheats are the first words that come out of our mouths when lamenting the state of the nation then perhaps it’s time to consider what exactly makes us so angry about these particular subjects.
Benefit fraud is estimated to cost the country £1.6 billion per year. Immigration is harder to define with many sources claiming net benefits to the economy. For the sake of argument, let’s take our cue from those well known champions of immigration and social welfare, the Daily Mail, who suggested in 2016 that on a yearly basis immigration costs the taxpayer £17 Billion.
These are big numbers – especially to those scraping by on minimum wage.
Let’s try some even bigger numbers.
Between £34 billion and £120 billion – the estimated amount corporations are reported to have avoided paying in tax to the treasury in the 2012/2013 financial year.
£500 billion – the estimate that bailing out the British banking system cost the tax payer and which led to years of public austerity.
£13 trillion – The estimate given in a recent Observer report suggesting a hoard hidden from the taxman by a global elite.
Now we find ourselves in an entirely different realm of numbers. Why is our national discourse not dominated by corporations, billionaire tax dodgers and the bankers who destroyed the global economy? The figures dwarf benefit fraud and immigration. Where are the daily tabloid headlines about this? Where are the equivalent shows on television to Channel 4’s Benefit Street but focusing on wealthy tax dodgers instead? Why are we focusing on the comparatively tiny figures for immigration and benefit fraud?
Because that’s what cowards do. If you can’t face up to the real bullies of this world, you find someone lower down the pecking order you can take your anger out on.
What is our excuse for this? Yes, perhaps sections of the mainstream media are to blame for a laser-like focus on welfare and immigration for their own political ends. But the information is out there. We all experienced the financial crash. We all saw it happen in 2008. Perhaps Frankie Boyle put it best.
Assuming of course that the people of this great nation are not afflicted by mass amnesia, the only rational conclusion one can draw is that we are too scared of money and power to do anything about it. Like most cowards we don’t reach upwards to take on the real source of our misery – tax dodging corporations, bankers, politicians and billionaires with offshore accounts.
Instead our nation turns and lashes out at the weak, poor and foreign – easy targets. If that’s our position, then in any sense of the word, that makes us cowards.
Yes, the NHS is stretched to breaking point. Yes, the crisis in social housing shows no signs of abating and yes, immigrants and those on benefits do make use of these services. This is the path to the short-term argument, the one that does not require the moral courage of controlling anger and blame. Whether or not you regard immigrants to this country as deserving of our social safety net, it is not a major economic problem compared to what goes on in the corporate world of banks and billionaires.
None of us can claim we have never lashed out in anger, in the heat of a moment, or in retaliation to a perceived injustice. It’s human nature to do so. The real question, the real challenge is in our country’s ability for accurate critical analysis of a situation, of seeing the larger context, of using our moral courage to avoid taking the easy option and to instead direct our anger at the real threats to economic and social prosperity.
It’s hard of course. How do we take these people on? How do we challenge them when much of the media is owned and controlled by them? The mega-wealthy seem sometimes to be so far out of the orbit of our daily lives that when we look for them, we are directed instead to (what we are told are) the more immediate ‘threats’ to our economy. Thus we kick downwards instead of up.
Until we can change our national discourse, until the front pages of the newspapers and the television news turn from focusing on immigrants and the weakest in society to those actually responsible for low wages, a struggling NHS and endemic poverty, then Britain will be and will always remain, a nation of cowards.