South: Polish Immigration

South: Polish immigration

Peter Henley
Politics Editor, BBC South

A 30 hour journey on a coach does not sound like fun, but five times a week a coach load of Polish people make the journey from Warsaw to Southampton.

They are heading for the South of England looking for work.

No-one is exactly sure how many Poles are here, but the City Council estimate it could be as high as 20,000.

In a city of 200,000 people that is one in 10.

The Southampton Labour MP John Denham is concerned that the sheer numbers of people is causing problems.

An example he gives is Southampton City College, where this term 1000 people registered to study English.

Perhaps, he says, the employers that are profiting from cheap labour could help fund the cost of their studies.

He is also worried that workers unintentionally undermine British employees by working for less money.

He said: “You cannot stop competition but you can ensure that they pay their tax and national insurance.

“Government agencies need to rigorously enforce this and target these dubious agencies that are dodging tax and also may be involved in other dubious dealings.”

Right to work

Poland became a member of the European Union in 2004, and its citizens won the freedom to work in Britain.

Two facts explain why so many are choosing to exercise that freedom.

First the average annual income in Poland is 4,000 a year. Second Poland has the highest unemployment rate in Europe. But why come to Southampton?

Multiple jobs

Sixty-two-year-old Jan Kosniowski came to Southampton after the war and now runs an employment agency in the city.

“The older community's attitude to the new ones is very mixed,” said Mr Kosiowski.

“For example, we arranged a Polish dance but very of the new young people turned up. Perhaps, if it had been a disco the attendance would have been different.”

“Many of the new ones come here and concentrate on earning money – working seven days a week.

“Some have two jobs and are sending money back to their families in Poland.

“Some work here for three or four months and then take time off over the summer or Christmas and go back to Poland for a few weeks and then return on the coaches.”

Rafal Kopala: Now has Business Visa

Rafal Kopala first arrived eight years ago – illegally. He left after a few months and came back with a business visa.

Rafal Kopal now works as a delivery driver for Michelin tyres.

“The reason why? I am sure why all Polish people come to England.

“They are looking for a better life, for work … and money. First thing, I think, is the money.”

Medical facilities stretched

Shirley is the heart of Southampton's Polish community. The Polish Deli stocks a taste of home for 100s of people.

But so many new people are putting a strain on health facilities. Some GPs report a huge increase in their workload.

And schools say there is a shortage of Polish speakers to help youngsters whose first language is not English.

Church role

The Polish Church Committee is now trying to improve relations with the new settlers.

“We are now trying to organise English lessons for adults at the Polish Community Centre in the hope the newcomers will attend regularly.”

“The elders have been keeping Polish traditions going.”

But whilst some Poles are keen to make a new life in England, many others are just here to earn money before they return home.