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Crowd of people

The Guardian

Wednesday November 28 2007

Government figures predict UK population could be anything from 63 million to 108 million by 2081.

Britain’s population could almost double to 108 million within 75 years, according to government projections published yesterday.

The Office for National Statistics said that, based on high estimates of growth in immigration, fertility and longevity, the current population of 60.5 million could rise to 75 million by 2031 and 108.7 million by 2081.

But the projections drawn up by the Government Actuary’s Department to help Whitehall plan pension and welfare provision also show that in a scenario of low fertility, low life expectancy and low migration, the population would increase to 66 million by 2056 and then dip to 63 million by 2081.

The ONS says its “principal projection”, the one it thinks most likely, is that Britain’s population will reach 71 million within 25 years, 78 million within 50 years and 85 million by 2081. Statisticians have tentatively estimated that 69% of Britain’s future population growth is likely to come directly or indirectly from migration including a rising birth rate attributed to a growing number of young migrants.

The figures were published as migration experts said the next significant flow of workers could be Poles who have been working in the Irish construction sector making their way to the London Olympics site.

The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, told MPs the projections showed what might happen in 75 years’ time unless action is taken now. “Frankly, it underlines the need for the swift and sweeping changes we are bringing to the immigration system in the next 12 months, which will include the introduction of an Australian-style, points-based system, so only those that Britain needs can come to work and study.

“I think it shows we are right to set the points score for new migrants by considering not only the good of the economy but the realities of immigration’s wider impact.”

The migration advisory committee has been set up to advise ministers on how an inflow of people can fill skills shortages, while the migration impacts forum was established to monitor the wider social impact of migration.

The points system will not only restrict the inflow of migrants from outside the European Union but also lay down a new framework for those coming to Britain for family reunion purposes and as students.

The shadow home secretary, David Davies, said the projections confirmed Conservative claims that the population is likely to grow rapidly and said the government needed to wake up to the factors that were driving population change.

The ONS projections were published as parliament heard that the latest figures show there are 40,000 Bulgarians and Romanians living in Britain, far below the unofficial 58,000 estimate. The figures, drawn from the Labour Force Survey carried out in June, include about 35,000 who have registered to work under various Borders and Immigration Agency schemes.

Prof David Blanchflower, of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, told the House of Lords economic affairs committee that the next significant flow of migrants to Britain was likely to be of Poles and other east European migrants coming from Ireland to London’s Olympic sites. He suggested that the next wave of workers from east Europe was likely to be less skilled than those who have come so far: “The anecdotal evidence is the young man who came to Britain after EU accession went back home and then came back with his brother, and they then went back and brought back their father and mother.”

Prof Janet Dobson of University College London said weekend reports that schools had been asked to cope with more than 200,000 east European migrant children in the last three years were wide of the mark. Slough, which had one of the highest migrant populations, had 258 new pupils from Poland in the last 18 months. She told peers the total figure was more likely to be in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands.

The National Association of Head Teachers said the impact of new migrants had been particularly acute in small rural schools which lacked the resources to cope with new arrivals.

The education experts who gave evidence agreed that lack of data from schools meant it was difficult to assess the impact of migration on education.


The official prediction that Britain’s population could almost double over the next 75 years certainly makes an eye-catching headline. But there is such a wide variation between the “high scenario” and the “low scenario” published by the Office of National Statistics that their figures range between 108 million by 2081 at the top and 64 million by the same date at the bottom. The biggest single factor in where the final figure will lie is thought to be migration and the “high” variant assumes that the population will increase by 250,000 a year due to migration.

That seems unlikely as it is 60,000 higher than the net figure of 190,000 a year who came after Poland joined the EU in the biggest ever migration to the UK. But if Turkey (71 million) and Ukraine (41 million) join the EU with unfettered access to the UK, that could change significantly.

Laissez-passer issued to International Civil Servants of the United Nations

Proper UN Convention status refugees are issued with a blue travel document, accepted worldwide.  I will always remember the first one I held and how it made me want to cry.  

Not all asylum seekers can show the well founded fear of persecution needed to gain refugee status.  UK asylum seekers granted the lesser status of Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR), or humanitarian protection under the European Convention on human rights, or those granted Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) are still nationals of the countries they have fled.  They are generally expected to keep their national passports current and use that to travel outside the UK to third countries.  Alternatively, in certain circumstances they are allowed to travel under a brown travel document or Certificate of Identity, issued by the UK government.  These are now issued by the new Border and Immigration Authority and cost £210.00. 

In order to get a brown travel document you need to show that you have applied to your own country for a passport and this has been formally and unreasonably refused.  Reasonable refusals – such as because of criminal convictions or failure to complete military service – will mean that the UK, too, will refuse to issue the travel document and you will be marooned here.

Only if you can show written evidence of the refusal and can show that it was unreasonable will you be issued with a brown travel document.

Mr and Mrs V call themselves “refugees”.   Technically they are not.  They are Serbs and left Yugoslavia in 2000 and typical of many who sought safety in the United Kingdom.  In 2002 they were granted ELR for four years, as was the practice then.  This temporary ELR status meant that the UK reserved the right, after the four years had elapsed, to decide that it was safe for them to return to their own country.  For them it meant four years of underlying tension – never knowing whether this would be their home for good, whether they should put down roots, or whether they should always hope to go back home.

They managed to get a brown travel document each, also valid for four years.  This enabled them to travel to see other close family members who had also left Yugoslavia.  Both the ELR and the travel documents ran out in 2006.  The Home Office was swamped with applications from the many hundreds in identical positions, wanting their ELR extended or converted into the more coveted ILR. 

Mr and Mrs V have recently got a decision.  They now have ILR and may stay in the UK indefinitely.  Many others are still waiting.

Once they have been here for a whole year with ILR, and providing they have been resident in the UK for five years by then, Mr and Mrs V will be able to apply for naturalisation as British Citizens, provided they can find the £735 fee for a couple applying together.  The will have to show that they are of good character and sound mind, and that they are familiar with the life and language of the United Kingdom.  If they are over 65 they may be exempt from the life and language test.  Once they are British Citizens, they may apply for a British passport to travel to other countries.

Until then, Mr and Mrs V have a conundrum.  They would very much like to travel to a third country to visit Mrs V’s elderly mother, paralysed by a stroke, but they have no laissez passer.  They must apply to the Serbian embassy for new passports.  If those are issued, they must travel under these passports – which seems odd when the UK has acknowledged that they are unable to return to Serbia and, indeed, their former brown travel documents were stamped good for every other country in the world but their own.

If the passports are refused, then they will have to show that the refusal was unreasonable.  Only then will the travel documents be issued.

Mr and Mrs V may be able to persuade the Border and Immigration Agency to issue a brown travel document on compassionate grounds.  They will need to show that they have to travel urgently and will need evidence of the compassionate grounds, such as a doctor’s certificate for Mrs V’s mother.  In the meantime Mrs V’s mother gets older by the day.

Try explaining that to a couple who speak about 100 words of English between them …

Thinking more about the parables of Rabbi Johnathan Sacks in relation to the three models of integration of immigrants summarised in a previous post, I came across an article from Prospect magazine, written in 2005 by Bhikhu Parekh.  The article is based on a speech given in 2004 at the International Labour Organisation and published as “Unity and Diversity in Multicultural Societies”.  Lord Parekh, Baron Parekh of Kingston upon Hull in Yorkshire, holds the Centennial Professorship at the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the London School of Economics, and was previously Chair of the Runnymeade Commission on the future of Multi-Ethnic Britain.  In many ways Parekh’s article is a precursor of the themes developed in Jonathan Sacks’s more recent book.  His article deals not only with the obligations of the community towards new immigrants but also the obligations of immigrants towards their new society.  It is not just about rights, but also about responsibilities. 

Parekh begins by reminding us that most developed societies are inescapably multicultural in the sense that there is enormous diversity of belief amongst people.  Causes of this diversity include: 

  • The rise of moral individualism

  • A decline in the traditional moral consensus

  • Ethnic and religious diversity

  • Globalisation

  • Immigration

 In an article that focuses on the diversity introduced by immigrants and the responsibility of immigrants in relation to society, Parekh remarks at the outset that immigrants do not necessarily introduce any further diversity into a society and more often than not tend to share the views of the majority.  Of the three models described by Sacks in his parables – the assimilationist or “country house” model, the “thin” integrationist or “hotel” model, and the third most desirable model of shared ownership – it is unsurprisingly the third model that Parekh, too, recommends.  In this third view of “equal citizenship” there is a recognition that a political community is a voluntary organisation of free and equal citizens held together by principles of justice as embodied in the structure of public authority and a regime of rights and obligations.  In other words a political community is a “bottom-up” and not a “top down” creation. 

In order for this political community to have any meaning for the participants, individuals have to identify with, or own, the community, accepting responsibility for it and promoting its wellbeing.  Ownership will include a sense of history which builds past experience into the identification, and will also include a future hopeful projection that plans the extension of the identification.  It is this past/present/future sense of common belonging that Parekh wants to see developed in Britain, including a moral and emotional commitment. Parekh draws a simple analogy with a membership club: 

“Ordinary clubs and associations insist on rules of membership, and rightly expect their successful new applicants to join them in good faith, observe their norms and do nothing to undermine them.” 

Belonging to the club does not involve severing ties with the individual’s country of origin, but does involve affording the new country an intrinsic value as a “home” and not just a place in which they happen to live or a place to make money.  Nor does the club always remain the same: it is inevitable that a society will change as new members are admitted and it is this inescapable change that threatens existing members. Immigrants should, Parekh argues, express their commitment to their new home.  This may be in one of the following ways: 

    • Respecting the existing structure of authority
    • Participating in the common life of the society
    • Discharging their share of collective responsibility by being productive workers, not abusing available welfare provisions.
    • Explicit professions of loyalty and patriotic sentiments 

Participation in the public sphere of the new society does not, however, rule out a personal, private sphere of activity where the immigrants are free to carry on their lives as they wish.  This freedom is, after all, already enjoyed by their fellow citizens. In order to participate in the public sphere, immigrants will need to acquire a “cultural competence” by learning the majority language, understanding and observing norms of civility and behaviour and familiarising themselves with the “small morals” of society, that is, society’s traditions, history, moral sensibilites and habits of thoughts. 

As this cultural competence is acquired, there will be a tendency to internalise the majority culture of the society, even where the practices seem to have no practical meaning.  Parekh gives the example of standing up for the national anthem: 

“There is nothing insincere, hypocritical or self-alienating about observing them without endorsing them, for it shows respect for society and its way of life, and facilitates good relations with its members.  Being new,  immigrants are unlikely to fully master the complex cultural grammar of a society.  But unless they make a sincere effort to acquire a modicum of cultural competence, they show lack of respect for society and create serious difficulties for themselves.  Their commitment to society is likely to be questioned.  They would be unable to communicate their aspirations and frustrations nor understand why sometimes others respond to these with incomprehension or resentment.  They also remain at the mercy of their more articulate spokesmen and brokers who have their own political agendas.”

In return for the moral and emotional commitment of immigrants, the wider society needs to ease their transition, recognising that the immigrant is often up against the following difficulties: 

    • The likelihood of experiencing discrimination and hostility from some members of the society
    • Discrimination in significant areas of life
    • Disadvantages resulting from poverty and lack of the majority language
    • The trauma of transition from one culture to another
    • Anxieties about their children
    • A mismatch between their aspirations and the reality of their new life 

Whilst formal and institutional discrimination if fairly easy to manage, informal discrimination is more insidious and will wear down victims and build resentment.  Living together can provide immigrants with a sense of security which enables them to overcome these feelings of discrimination.  Once they feel personally and socially secure they are more likely to begin to reach out to the wider society and experiment with its ways of life and thought.  In other words, informal, voluntary segration may be a positive thing in the short term;

“immigrants tend to move out of ethnically concentrated areas when they feel physically secure, acquire cultural self-confidence, improve their economic prospects and feel sure that they will not face rejection.” 

Measures to combat discrimination and to foster this self-confidence will be most effective if carried out at a local level.  Local schools are particularly important and must strive to avoid the assimilationist ethos that immigrants fear.  A broad programme of multicultural education “should also reduce the demand for separate ethnic and religious schools, which sometimes stand in the way of a common sense of belonging”. 

Parekh warns of the danger of ignoring understandable fears of the majority as change occurs: 

“A common sense of belonging is easier when both the majority and minority communities feel at ease with themselves and each other.  If minorities feel threatened, besieged, and fearful of cultural extinction, they turn inward, become defensive and tend to avoid all but the minimum contact with the rest of society.  This is equally true of the majority.  If it feels it is no longer in charge of its future and that its way of life is subject to relentless erosion, it becomes defensive and intolerant and either tries to close its doors to immigration, or falls prey to the unrealistic and self-defeating project of assimilation or total integration.” 

A fair, transparent and publicly debated immigration policy is essential, and must address the legitimate fears about immigration whilst combating racist rejection of all immigrants.  To refuse to recognise the fears, or the distinction between reasonable fears and racism is to be politically irresponsible.  Equally, a new British identity must be capable of being expressed in a plurality of images and must be capacious enough to encompass not only the traditional literary image of a green and rolling landscape of “church bells, quiet Sundays, dreaming spires, emotional self-disclipline, and the art of understatement and irony” but must also embrace the newer images from immigrant writers of elderly gentlemen walking to Friday prayers, of Diwali celebrations in public squares, spicy food and saris. 

On the one hand a British identity must be strong and fulfilling enough to enrich those who currently feel alienated and lonely.  On the other hand there must be a strong spirit of mutual commitment between the Muslim community and the wider British society. 



Three parables.

The Country House

In the first, a hundred strangers have been wandering around the countryside, looking for somewhere to stay.  The come across a large country house and are met by the owner at the gate.  He welcomes them in with a warm smile saying that his house has many empty rooms, room enough for them, that they must consider themselves his guests.  The strangers enter and at first all is well.  After a while, though, they become disgruntled.  However generous their host, he remains the host, and they are the guests.

The Hotel

Once again the hundred strangers are searching for somewhere to stay.  This time they happen across an hotel.  The hotel is large and has every amenity.  The strangers have enough money to pay the hotel bills, so they book their rooms, move in, unpack, stay …

The hotel rules are simple.  The strangers may do whatever they like as long as they do not disturb the other guests.  Although they are guests, just like in the country hotel, it feels different because here everyone is a guest.  But a hotel room is where you stay, not where you belong.  You have no loyalty to a hotel, and put down no roots there.  You nod to the other guests but everyone remains a stranger to everyone else.

The Home

This time the strangers arrive at a town where they are welcomed by the local dignataries.  The Mayor apologises that they have no country house to cosset them, not hotel in which they can stay, but they do have a patch of empty land large enough to accommodate houses for all the strangers.  The strangers are offered advice from experts about how to construct their houses, and they are given hospitality by the town until the houses are built.  The Mayor is insistent that they see themselves as part of the town, that the house building become a joint enterprise of the strangers and the townfolk.  The strangers invest their energies in building their new homes.  How can they feel detached from something they have constructed themselves.  Not only have they made a home, but they have made themselves feel at home.  The strangers have self-respect and a real relationship with the people around them from the town.  When the houses are finished everyone celebrates together.

“The newcomers still occasionally seem strange.  They speak and act and dress differently from the locals.  But those long sessions of working together have had their effect.  The locals know the newcomers are serious, committed, dedicated.  They have their own ways, but they have also learned the ways of the people of the town, and they have worked out a modus vivendi, a rough and ready friendship.  The two groups respect one another with that unspoken regard that comes when you work with others on a shared project to which each brings his or her own special gifts.  Making something together breaks down the walls of suspicion and misunderstanding, even though that is not the aim of the project at all.” (p15)

Taken from The Home We Build Together by Johnathan Sacks, published in October 2007.   

Johnathan Sacks is Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth.  The book is a timely attempt to find a third way between the two main models of integration of immigrants into British society.   The parables could relate to immigration, class, church denominations, but Sacks uses them to develop an argument for a particular approach to a British identity.  It is an model of citizenship based on responsibility to a society connected by the ideas of giving and belonging instead of individual rights.

The first parable represents the assimilationist model, or the melting pot, where in order to belong you have to lose your identity in order to become “one of us”.  The second parable represents the multicultural model.  There is no dominant culture, no identity that has to be given up, but no belonging either.  It risks becoming a society that is a series of interconnecting rooms, with the inhabitants of each room segregated from those in other rooms.  The third way, illustrated by the third parable, is integration without assimilation:

“Yes we have our private rooms, but we also have out public spaces, and those public spaces matter to all of us, which is why we work together to make them as expansive and gracious as we can.  That act of making creates belonging.” (p16)