November 26, 2014 9.21 am This story is over 113 months old

Learning tolerance: what immigrants have to offer

Immigration: David Harding-Price looks at what part of immigration UK residents actually object to, and what most immigrants bring to the country.

Immigrants are bad for Great Britain, so we are told by a number of different groups. But as a Celt, a true redhead, I could argue that most people reading this article are the sons and daughter of immigrants. Consequently, you are all bad for me and my Celtic brothers and sisters.

If you are of Saxon origin then your ancestors were immigrants between the 5th and 15th century. In fact, in Gaelic tongues the word for English comes from the Latin “Saxones” [Sassenach – Scottish Gaelic, Sasanach – Irish Gaelic and Saeson – Welsh]. If you are of Norman origin then your arrival in England started in 1066. Add in the Vikings in the 800AD and the Romans from 43AD, and it is clear that immigrants have made up English society for almost two millennia.

So why are we raising the question now? Without the Mauritanians, Philippinos and Irish, our mental health services in the 1960s and 1970s would have collapsed. Without the people from the Caribbean, our bus services and nursing service would have come to halt in the 1950s. Without the Eastern Europeans, our food would not be picked in the fields in the 2010s. I imagine most readers will approve of all of these immigrants because they are inputting into society.

So of who is it that people disapprove? Is it the health tourists who come to abuse our world-renowned National Health Service? Is it the Europeans who come to draw funds from our generous social security? Alternatively, is it those who come to abuse our hospitality? I imagine the last group are at the top of the list and it these people that result in the hard working immigrants getting a bad name.

I totally agree if someone comes to Great Britain expecting handouts or taking over the patch of a British “Big Issue” seller, then that is wrong. Their country should support them and they should stay there and be cared for by their government. Just because Britain has developed a benefits system that cares for its indigenous people does not mean the world and his wife can benefit from it.

However, as a modern country, we benefit from the knowledge, skills and labour that people bring. They come to assimilate rather than take over, if we let them. I remember some years ago being at a mandatory diversity training session in the NHS, where the trainer was telling an audience consisting of a range of races and cultures, including some white British, that we should tolerate the immigrants’ customs.

After about half an hour of the session, a small middle aged coloured lady stood up and told the trainer she was talking rubbish and she (the coloured lady) had come to Britain to work, eat fish and chips and watch football, not force her Caribbean culture on the British. She continued if someone wanted to learn about West Indian cooking then go and live in the Caribbean. She walked out of the training session, followed by most of the non-whites in the room and they went to the pub across the road and carried on the diversity training there. How do I know that? Well, I joined them in the pub and learnt more about diversity and their desires than I would have if I had stayed in the training session.

It is too easy for some people to say all immigrants are bad for us. But, what about the two thirds of the premier league players who are non-British players? Many of the doctors and increasing nurses in the NHS are from abroad because successive governments have cut training places and so we have to recruit from outside Great Britain. Wherever you look in Britain today immigrants are working, often because the indigenous population will not take the jobs.

Surely we should be saying if you have something to offer Great Britain come and provide it, but if you come just for the handout then Britain cannot be the place for you. Tolerance is based on both sides recognising what the other has to offer. Tolerance will never exist if one side thinks that they can come and take from the other.

David is a retired NHS nurse, but is currently the Royal College of Nursing’s Council Member for the East Midlands and is Honorary Treasurer of the RCN. David was also a Lib Dem MP candidate for Lincoln in the past. He has two grown up children and enjoys photography and swimming in his spare time.