If you look for immigrants, you won’t find us sitting on the sofa in the local mansion, on the phone to our relatives as we work out how to claim yet another benefit. You’ll find us working early cleaning leisure centres and tube stations, working late in fish and chip shops, McDonalds and strip clubs, working in the afternoons in factories and schools, on farms and building sites. Most of it is service work, the kind of jobs you don’t notice people doing, with low pay and long hours, poor conditions and little career progression. Immigrants are invisible, working hard and late for low pay, stigmatised and hated. Lots of hard work, for very little reward: that’s most immigrants’ experience of their own lives and of the lives of others in their communities.
The facts back this up. Two million immigrants have come to the UK from the eight Eastern European countries which joined the EU in 2004. Of those, only 13,000 have claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance. Those who have been on benefits haven’t stayed on them for long: the average time on Jobseeker’s Allowance is a mere thirteen weeks. And the cost of benefits is nothing compared to the five billion pounds that these immigrants have added to the economy.
Immigrants don’t get much of reward themselves. They cycle home six miles from a late shift at minimum wage because they can’t afford the bus, risking their life because they can’t afford lights on their bike; scrimp and save to send money home or look after elderly relatives or young children; or live in a small flat above a fish and chip shop, managing a business and looking after four children. Something for nothing? More like a lot of back breaking work for next to nothing.