Hazel Blears: Immigration fuels social tension
By Christopher Hope
Home Affairs Editor
Last updated: 12:58 AM BST 12/06/2008
An influx of hundreds of thousands of foreigners is fuelling social tensions in parts of the country which were totally unprepared for large-scale immigration, the Government has admitted.
Hazel Blears, the Communities and Local Government secretary, said teams of Whitehall officials were being sent to areas where there was “friction” caused by the arrival of large numbers of foreigners.
A Government study looking at the social impact of migration found that new immigrants to the UK accounted for nearly half of the population growth over the past five years.
Some 860,000 people swelled Britain's population from European Union countries, as well as Commonwealth and other states, it said.
It acknowledged that the scale of this migration had increased public concern in some parts of the country which were unused to large communities of foreigners. Schools and hospitals were often hardest hit.
The report – Managing the Impacts of Migration – A Cross-Government Approach – found large scale migration “has affected many areas with little previous experience of large migrant communities”.
It said: “In some places it is the pace and scale of change which have an impact on local communities and services”, while “other places experiencing significant migration for the first time may not have the institutions and programmes in place to help them manage that change.”
Particular pressure was being felt in schools and hospitals, where migrants were failing to register with their local GP and instead going for basic treatment to Accident and Emergency departments in hospitals.
The report acknowledged there were concerns about “health tourism” – where migrants come to the UK specifically to take advantage of free health services on the NHS.
Officials were now “examining the rules that apply to migrants and other foreign nationals accessing healthcare”.
Some towns and cities like Newcastle were crying out for migrants to move there. Yet other areas were struggling to cope with the massive influx of immigrants
Miss Blears said she was sending in specialist teams to help some areas cope with the extra pressures on services.
Three experts from Miss Blears' department are starting work at Breckland district council, in Norfolk, this summer. Breckland council saw its population rise by more than 1,300 in 2005/06, almost entirely due to the arrival of immigrants from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Portugal.
Miss Blears said: “The change in the population has caused some friction and some tensions there. And they have had a few incidents. We are sending in some specialists who have a background in grassroots activism.
“They want to learn from the good things that are going on in Breckland but also help to build new relationships and make a better atmosphere in that town.”
Miss Blears signalled that a new “immigrants tax”, raised from a levy on visa applications, should not be given to individual hospitals and police forces.
Instead, the cash would be spent on integrated websites for migrants, on English language training, she said.
The Tories said the report was an admission that Labour had “failed to control the rising level of immigration” which was increasing pressure on local public services.
Eric Pickles, the shadow Communities secretary, said: “Effective controls on immigration are needed to manage its impact on public services, the economy and the environment.”
The Liberal Democrats' Julia Goldworthy added: “Internal migration can have a massive impact on communities, yet the Government is simply not taking this into account.”
Sir Simon Milton, chairman of the Local Government Association, repeated demands for a 250 million contingency fund to be set up to help councils deal with migration.
Sir Simon said: “No-one has a real grasp of where or for how long migrants are settling, so much-needed funding for local services isn't getting to the right places.”