In the final days before the EU referendum, the talk has turned to immigration, with those in the Leave camp claiming that immigration into the UK could be brought under control only if we leave the EU, but with successive governments apparently unable to rein in immigration form outside the EU either, that seems very unlikely.
The benefits of immigration to the UK is a discussion for another time, but what is clear from the statistics is that over half of the immigrants coming to the UK are from outside the EU, which means that the government could have been controlling this flow for decades, but has not done so.
Immigration into the UK has been on the increase since 1997, and since then only one EU country has managed to be in the top three sources of immigrants in any year – with India and China dominating the list for the last five years.
Large-scale immigration can cause upheaval in local communities and put a short-term strain on public services, and while the long-term effects may be beneficial for all but those working the lowest paid jobs, this has understandably caused resentment amongst a large part of the British public.
However, it is wrong to place the blame for these issues on the European Union, the institution that has introduced a variety of protections for the lowest paid and hardest hit by the effects of immigration in our society. No, the blame for the problems lies with the UK governments for the last three decades, who have chosen to deflect blame for all the ills of their own policies onto the EU.
If you were hit hard by austerity, with your benefits sanctioned by Iain Duncan Smith, or forced to wait ever longer at A&E thanks to ideological and wasteful attempts at change in the NHS by Michael Gove, voting Brexit is not going to help. The very same people who have imposed austerity, and then blamed immigration for stretching services they have refused to fund, are those leading the Leave campaign.
Throughout the last eight years, the Tories have blamed the declining standards in the NHS on staff being stretched too thin thanks to immigration. But it was them who have tried to force junior doctors into a contract that would stretch them even thinner, putting patient safety at risk.
The EU and immigration have nothing to do with the increasing issues faced by the NHS – these problems are being imposed from above by a Tory government, with many in that government, including Michael Gove and Nigel Farage in support of partial or complete privatisation of the service. And yet now, Michael Gove claims during Question Time that the NHS is something he has always wanted to protect? He had every chance to fix the funding issues for the NHS while he was health minister, but he was more focused on how to make cut backs and ideological reorganisations, most of which have had to be rapidly reversed to keep the service running at all.
The government deserves a black eye from the electorate for how that have pushed through austerity, but the time to make your voice heard is at national, local, or even EU elections. This referendum is too important, and a vote to Leave will only prove to give more power to those that have imposed these hardships in the first place.