Polish Londoner

These are the thoughts and moods of a born Londoner who is proud of his Polish roots.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

16,305 Polish-speaking schoolchildren in London

I now have the latest statistics for the amount of Polish-speaking children in London state primary and secondary schools, borough by borough.
This makes a 28% increase on last academic year and a 103% increase on the 2006 intake. That increase over 5 years is the equivalent of more than 20 new average sized primary schools in London, 3 of them in Ealing alone, and almost 2 each in Haringey, Hounslow, Barnet and Brent.

The recorded figures for Polish speaking children in London schools April 2011

Barking & Dagenham .. 260
Barnet .. 1058
Bexley .. 111
Brent .. 866
Bromley .. 69
Camden .. 188
City of London .. NR
Croydon .. 468
Ealing .. 2536
Enfield .. 713
Greenwich .. 301
Hackney .. 711
Hammersmith & Fulham .. 370
Haringey .. 1047
Harrow .. 528
Havering .. 148
Hillingdon .. 503
Hounslow .. 1178
Islington .. 210
Kensington & Chelsea .. 167
Kingston .. 237
Lambeth .. 509
Lewisham .. 332
Merton .. 833
Newham .. 674
Redbridge .. 304
Richmond .. 237
Southwark .. 210
Sutton .. 205
Tower Hamlets .. NR
Waltham Forest .. 578
Wandsworth .. 637
Westminster .. 117

Total for all Boroughs 16,305

© Wiktor Moszczynski
"NR” = “No Record"

These Polish-speaking children will become a significant factor in the ethnic mix in schools in London and elsewhere in UK for the next few decades. A smaller proportion of these children are second and third generation immigrants who are children of British citizens of Polish ethnic origin. This older Polish community, emanating from wartime and post-war political exiles, has been a model of how an ethnic minority can integrate into British society and the British economy but still retain their distinct culture and traditions.

The majority of the children however are of first generation stock and will play a similar and important role in helping to integrate their own parents (often with a poor knowledge of English) into the British way of life. Although the majority of these children arrive at their London school with no knowledge of English they are soon inducted (along with many other ethnic minorities and immigrants) into a good knowledge of English. Many of them retain their knowledge of the Polish language and customs through their Polish Saturday schools.

There is nothing new there as that was what happened to me when I was first sent to a school in Ealing in 1953 with no knowledge of English.

While many children in themetropolitan are integrating well there are difficulties for Polish children in tural areas where the local education authorities do not have quite the experience with a large influx of children without a basic knowledge of English. Many like Dorset and Luton have made brave efforts to integrate but a national form of guidance through organizations like THRALL is going to be necessary.

The numbers will not abate. According to the Polish Centre for International Studies there are 130,000 children with Polish citizenship in this country. But every year more than 5,000 children are being born to Polish families in the UK. In my opinion there is an overwhelming need to maximize resources to ensure that this minority, and others from Central Europe, can be comfortably absorbed throughout the varying local communities in this country. Let us remember that overwhelmingly these Polish families are taxpayers (paying income tax, national insurance, council tax) and have voting rights in local elections.

I believe there is an overwhelming need for the British and Polish governments to call a joint conference including education experts and members of the Polish community in this country to consider these issues.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Ed Miliband on Poles and immigration

Ed Miliband has finally made a comment on the decision by his Labour colleagues in 2004 to allow Central Europeans to come and work in this country. Of course it would have been better if in his interview yesterday with Nick Robinson of the BBC, Ed Miliband had referred to the arrival of Central Europeans generally, and not just Poles, as it skews the debate somewhat around one nationality and makes Poles more vulnerable to possible future prejudiced discrimination and attacks in the right wing media.

That said, at least Ed Miliband has stepped more seriously into the debate on immigration than any other mainstream politician by considering the impact of the arrival of Central Europeans in this context as well as dwelling on non-EU immigration.

It is true that Poles and other Central Europeans are not part of the normal agenda when politicians discuss immigration issues. This is because legally they are EU citizens with as much right to live and work in this country as Brits or other EU nationals. They played a vital part in stimulating the economy and rejuvenating the workforce in the boom years between 2004 and 2008 and a large proportion of them integrated well into the social fabric of the country.

However, in the eyes of the public, Central Europeans are seen as an important factor in the immigration debate. Unless politicians are prepared to engage with this perception they will fail to have a meaningful dialogue with their own electorate.

Certainly Mr Miliband is right to say that the sheer number of arrivals had not been predicted either by the politicians in Britain (including Liberal Democrats and many Conservatives, not just Labour) or by the EU institutions at the time. It should also be added that nobody had predicted that so many Central Europeans may choose to stay and set up families here (130,000 Polish children in the UK below the age of 14,as I mentioned in an earlier blog, and more than 16,500 Polish speaking children in London schools).

Actually I think the decision to allow central Europeans was the right one, even though it was based on false prognoses. My real criticism of the government at the time was not that it had allows Central Europeans in, but that in doing so it had failed to monitor the arrival (and departure) of Central Europeans and let down local authorities and services which had to face unexpected local surges from the new arrivals. Of course the overwhelming majority of Central Europeans came here to work legally and in doing so they contributed to the exchequer both through income tax and council tax, but inevitably a financial pinch-point for local education and social services and for the police and hospitals should have been predicted.

It is important for Mr Miliband to stress at this stage that it is true that more Central Europeans have arrived and have settled than the government had predicted, but even if the decison to open the labour market in the UK to all EU citizens had not been made in 2004, it would still have had to take place by this year. What if the government had not been so generous in 2004? What would have been the dismal fate of agriculture and the native food industry in Scotland and East Anglia? Would the UK have had the manpower to prepare for the Olympics, or run all those hotels necessary to sustain the tourist boom? And let us look at Germany, which did not open up its market to its eastern neighbours until this year and suffered a not dissimilar influx of Polish workers, but the work these workers undertook was illegal and they paid no taxes to the German treasury.

It is equally important for any responsible politician and media pundit to point out that the only current policy that the UK can adopt towards all its existng EU citizens who are planning to stay long term, whether from Western, Southern, Northern or Central Europe is the same, namely to seek to integrate them better - in our schools, trade unions and job training - while working with Polish charities and other organizations to encourage repatriation of the homeless.

At the same time most members of the Polish community in this country would welcome further measures by the British government to control benefit fraud and to tackle the issue of welfare through a strict application of the habitual residence test.

In view of the UK's ageing population, with more and more British pensioners relying on the income of a dwindling indigenous workforce, the young Central Europeans in this country, and in particular the Poles, have much to contribute to the struggling economy and to enrich its social and cultural life. The UK economy cannot do without them.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Poles - the dark horse in the immigration debate

I attach my comments made on BBC News Channel following David Cameron's speech on immigration on 14th April 2011. He expressed concern that mass immigration had "created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods". As you can see from the youtuble clip below, I describe the Poles in the UK as the dark horse, the great unmentionable, in the immigration debate.


Actually Poles and other central Europans in the UK are the lynchpin to the misunderstanding between the public and politicians in the immigration debate.

The Prime Minister and other leading responsible politicians stress that they are concerned with the increase in non-EU immigration and are considering measures like caps, controls on overseas students, closing down bogus teaching colleges, tougher control of asylum seekers and the enforcement of a ban on bogus marriages and forced marriages. They also want to consider stricter restrictions on citizens arriving from new EU members, such as Romanians or Bulgarians, or any that join the EU from now on. None of his proposed measures were remotely new. Labour, which had introduced the sensible measure that all future applicants for British citizenship should speak English, and the Liberal Democrats criticise the PM's speech and say that enforcing such a cap on skilled immigrants and students paying high course fees is counterproductive both economically and culturally.

However all the time all 3 main parties talk about non-EU immigration. They note in particular concern about the increasing cultural isolation of some of the Muslim minorities and the presence of illegal immigrants in an underground economy. Politicians and pundits stress this non-EU element because they know very well that under their EU treaty arrangements citizens of states that are members of the EU in 2004 or before, such as Spain, France, Portugal, Poland, Hungary or the Baltic States are no longer strictly immigrants, but EU citizens, with as much right to live and work here and raise a family as a British citizen. For the same reason British citizens can live and work anywhere in the EU.

This is NOT how the average UK citizen sees the situation. For good or ill the UK indigenous population sees the influx of Poles and other Central Europeans into this country since 2004 as an immigration issue. To the public they are part of the immigration debate; to the politicians they are not.

This does not mean that the British people are universally hostile to Poles or see them necessarily as a cultural threat. Since the Second World War there has been a sizeable and even popular Polish community living in Britain, integrated into the economy but still with a distinct cultural presence. Integration, yes: assimilation, no, was their watchword. This would be an excellent model for other minorities to follow.

Since the accession of the so-called A8 countries, of which Poland was the largest, into the EU in 2004 and throughout the boom years before 2008, Poles were almost welcomed by all but the most churlish, as hard working, diligent, unobtrusive and bringing a boost to the British economy and the British exchequer. They were compared favourably by most newspapers to the supposedly "work shy" young Brits living off state benefits and unwilling to find work. Poles were considered the saviours of Scottish and East Anglian agriculture and had an enviable reputation as competent cheap plumbers and builders and as diligent customer-friendly hotel and restaurant staff.

Nevertheless the less prosperous or adventurous sections of society, as well as a number of ethnic minorities who had arrived in the last 30 years, resented their presence from the start. The right wing press exploited this. I remember the Indian councillor in Southall urging his Labour colleagues to condemn recent "immigration from Poland" because it threatened the livelihood and prosperity of Southall. He said this without any irony, oblivious to what the white population had been saying about the new Asian arrivals in Southall only 30 years before.

Then the boom years ended. The job losses and frustrations about future prospects that have arisen since the financial crisis in 2008 and the recession that followed caused a genuine fear that native citizens were losing jobs and the Central European visitors were not. "They are stealing our jobs," was the populist cry. Incidents of verbal abuse and even acts of violence against Poles increased in this period.

In fact the the sheer numbers of new arrivals from Central Europe with at least more than a million living in this country at present, of which some 700,000 would be Poles, made that fear about job losses and ethnic tension worse. Poles form more than 1% of the UK population at present. Their impact on social services, education and crime are also being viewed with alarm by many members of the general public following sensational media headlines in the "Daily Mail" and "Daily Express". In large multiethnic melting pots like London or Manchester their presence is not so provocative but Poles are particularly visible in rural areas and in towns like Grantham, Boston, Crewe or Redditch which do not traditionally have a high proportion of ethnic minorities.

The fact that new fears are often exaggerated or based on false statistics does not allay people's fears. Until the results of 2011 census are published, the public will not trust any official figures by the government and other institutions on the number of immigrants in this country, whether legal or not. This is due mainly to the reluctance of the previous government to monitor the figures properly despite pleas from organisations like the Local Government Association or the Federation of Poles in Great Britain. Political correctness prevented a proper debate on the issue.

In fact supposedly high crime statistics, such as the 2010 figures showing more than 6000 criminal convictions by Polish citizens in this country, still means that less than 1% of Polish citizens in this country have been involved in criminal activities and the remaining 99% are law abiding. This compares well to the national crime statistics for the same period which show that for every 100 residents in this country, seven crimes are being committed. There is also resentment that so much child benefit is being drawn to support chidren still living in Poland. However this is compatible with current EU legislation and the only alternative is that the children be brought to Britain, where they will cost the British taxpayer far far more. It is also a drop in the ocean compared to the £2 billion plus annual input of Central Europeans into the UK economy. Also Poles pay income tax and council tax themselves, so they are taxpayers too, as well as electors in local and European elections.

One phenomenon that is increasingly visible is the large number of Polish children in the UK. The current estimate by the Polish Centre of International Relations is that there are 130,000 Polish children living in this country under the age of 14. The majority of them do not speak English until they get to a school. There are currently 16,500 Polish-speaking children in London state schools alone. In 2007 the total figure had been 7958 so the total has more than doubled. In Boroughs such as Ealing, Brent, Hounslow, Barnet and Haringey the increase in Polish speaking schoolchildren has been really dramatic. In Ealing the number of Polish-speaking schoolchildren had risen in 4 years from 1277 to 2536, the equivalent of 3 new schools. In London the local education authorities are used to the task of inducting young children from abroad into the British way of life, but in the rural areas and small provincial towns this integration has not been so easy.

Furthermore while many newly arrived Poles have integrated exceptionally well into the British economy and the local social fabric and have found jobs in the NHS, banking, accountancy, the retail trade or just setting up their own businesses, a harder core of mostly young and middle aged men remain obstinately outside it and either living in self-made Polish ghettoes or in total isolation. The issue of the Polish homeless and those exploited by working in insanitary or hazardous jobs for low pay below the minimum wage has sometimes exacerbated the negative image of Poles in this country, though they form only a small minority of the Polish population here.

The fact remains that the presence of Central Europeans is the unresolved taboo subject which makes it impossible for a meaningful dialogue between politicians and the public. Promises by David Cameron to reduce annual immigration figures to "tens of thousands" is simply just not being believed. Politicians continue to steer the debate to the issue of non-EU migrants and asylum seekers and the public consider the EU citizens as being part and parcel of the problem.

Statistically the presence of EU citizens, and especially Poles, is a black hole, hidden by a babble of obfuscation and well meaning self deception. It will remain that until the proper statistics are revealed by the Census and the public is brought in to face the truth about the Central European influx. If some of the public see the issue of immigration as a some kind of disease or wound afflicting this country, then that wound needs to be properly recognised for what it it is and analysed properly without any half truths before that wound can start to heal. The public deserves the whole truth and politicans and social analysts should start to provide it.

The first truth, which the politicians should state clearly, and not just mumble, is that all EU citizens have a right to live and work in this country, and, if they are employed, they are eligible for certain benefits. They are not legally immigrants even though many of the public so perceive them.

The second truth is that, while many Poles and other EU citizens, migrate backwards and forwards to where the jobs and the best living conditions are, once they have settled comfortably in this country, earning a good salary, or running a business, or starting a family, they are in all intents and purposes, likely to remain for a long time, if not for ever. This had not been foreseen by politicians in 2004 when the labour market was opened to the new EU citizens, but neither for the most part was it foreseen by the young Poles themselves.

The third truth is that arrivals of new central Europeans cannot be curtailed by current law and those living here cannot just be expelled. Of course the government is right to regulate welfare benefits to EU citizens more effecively by introducing the habitual residence test, by seeking agreements with Polish charities to repatriate homeless EU citizens and expel those with criminal convictions here. They are right too to monitor child benefit fraud more carefully, especially in their review of current welfare provision in this country. In any case, less Poles are arriving here because of the economic crisis. Far fewer new national insurance numbers are being issued annually to Polish citizens. However the crisis has not prevented an increased influx of other Central Europeans, notably Romanians, Latvians and Lithuanians.

If the government wishes to tackle some of the recession-fed social tension around the question of Central Europeans in this country, it cannot expel them or discriminate against them. So the only solution is for the government, both at national and local level, to take steps to integrate them better, even though not all of them will be seeking to be integrated.

I have already referred to the measures in my presentation to the All Party Parliamentary Committee on Poland in March 2008. The Government should ensure the maintenance of proper national and local statistics on all immigrant communities and for EU citizens, following the census results later this year, and the reintroduction of "counting people out" as well as "in" to the country if immigration statistics are to have any validity. I urged the further extension of free lessons in English and civics, a special unit to monitor hate crimes against Central Europeans, easier access for Poles to register with local surgeries, an increase in Polish speaking staff in hospitals, clinics, the police and court staff (if only to cut down on the wasteful expenditure on interpreters), the extension of the Gangmaster Agency to the hotel and building industries and increased support for local education authorities and health trusts with a large population of newly arrived foreign nationals. The trade unions are doing magnificent work in seeking to integrate Central Europeans into the economy and tackling anti-Polish prejudice in the work force; the government should back them all the way in this.

The public at large are not fools. They know that this further integration is the only way and that expelling Poles and other EU nationals is not an option. But they need to hear the politicians emerge from under the parapet and say this too. If they do not say it then in this tense period of economic uncertainty extremist and anti-European organisations like the BNP and UKIP will increasingly seize the agenda and push the public into a stance that flies in the face of all civised debate and would entail the suspension of the UK's EU membership. Then increased anti-Polish prejudices will make many in that community feel threatened and increase the siege mentality of both the Central Europeans and the indigenours population, thus increasing the spiral of hatred, violence, and further mistrust of politicians.

So Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband, Mr Clegg speak to the people of Britain in a language they understand and earn their respect.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Poles in England & Wales 4 times more law abiding than average Brit?

Latest statistics published in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail show that Poles living here are overwhelmingly law abiding in comparison to the average resident of England and Wales.

Latest estimates of the number of Poles in England and Wales by the Polish Consulate are around 700,000. In 2010 the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) recorded that 6777 convictions in England and Wales concerned Polish citizens. On the face of it this is still a high number, but in view of the total estimate of Poles in this country, it does show that less than 1% of Poles in this country have been convicted of committing a crime in England and Wales. Or, put another way, less than one Pole in every hundred has been convicted of a crime. Considering that most of the Poles here are young and live in a land with unfamiliar customs to which many have not yet fully adjusted, this is indeed a relatively low figure.

By comparison the Home Office Statistical Bulletin, published in January 2011, stated that the total number of recorded crimes in England and Wales between October 2009 and September 2010 stands at 4,223,362. This covers roughly the same time period as the above crime statistics for Poles. The last recorded population of England and Wales stands at 52,042,000 (2001 Census) though it is probably somewhat higher now. That is equivalent to more than 7 crimes having been recorded for every 100 residents of England and Wales, i.e. one crime for every 14 persons in the country. Obviously many of the above offences would have been carried out by repeat offenders, but it would not be unfair to estimate that some 4% of the indigenous population may have committed a crime.

These statistics also mean that less than 00.15% (less than one sixth of 1 per cent) of crimes in this country were committed by Polish citizens. Still high, but the statistics for law abiding Polish residents in the UK looks more positive by comparison with the entire population of England and Wales.

Obviously the ACPO is right to point out that crime committed by ethnic minorites, and in particular by minorities who have not lived in the UK for long and are not likely to speak English fluently, does cause a greater use of police resources than crimes committed by the indigenous population. It requires more complex work with the community in question and involves an increased use of interpreters. Obviously this is highly regrettable.

Many of us Poles do feel angry that even this small percentage of Polish citizens abuses English and Welsh hospitality by committing crimes in this country. We agree that recent job losses and the credit squeeze, which had hit Polish communities particularly strongly, are not an adequate excuse for committing such offences here. Nevertheless we feel it is unfair that British newspapers seem to be highlighting statistics in such a way that is likely to inflame resentment against law abiding Poles and other nationalities living, working and paying taxes in this country.

I believe that the Federation of Poles in Great Britain (for whom I used to be the press officer some years ago) should make these facts more widely available and challenge the presentation of these statistics by an alarmist British media.