Many people believe that immigration is automatically bad for poorer areas. These fears often centre around scarce resources; if there is already a lack of good transport connections, doctors surgeries and schools, then it is assumed that immigration will automatically exasperate the situation. In 2015 Theresa May claimed that high levels of immigration were responsible for lower wages, she blamed immigrants for pressures on public infrastructure such as schools and the NHS, and she said that high immigration makes society less cohesive. She also said that:
“While there are benefits of selective and controlled immigration, at best the net economic and fiscal effect of high immigration is close to zero. So there is no case, in the national interest, for immigration of the scale we have experienced over the last decade.”
If all this is correct, then an area which is already experiencing social deprivation, bad transport connections, a crime problem and a lack of ‘social cohesion’, would surely get worse if it experienced high levels of immigration, right?
The recent ‘1 Day Without Us’ campaign aimed to highlight the important role that immigration can have in our society. In light of this, I would like to share my personal experiences as someone who lives in a poorer London area, which experienced high levels of immigration during last few decades.
I moved to Thamesmead, South East London with my family in the late 90s. Thamesmead was used as the filming location for A Clockwork Orange, Beautiful Thing and parts of the Misfits series due to its tower blocks and grey, run-down appearance. It was originally created in the 1960s as one of those ‘Utopian towns of the future’. The ‘futuristic’ tower blocks’ were meant to increase housing opportunities for people in inner city areas, and the ‘connectivity’ of the design was meant to improve social cohesion and ‘neighbourhood ties’.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite turn out like that. Thamesmead’s transport connections to central London were very poor (at the time everyone had to rely on local train services), the area was known for its gangs, and it was generally regarded as a dodgy, crime filled area which was best to be avoided. The week before we moved to Thamesmead, the town was in the papers due to a ‘mugging epidemic’. Thamesmead and surrounding areas were also heavily associated with the BNP, who at the time had their headquarters close by. The old occupant of our house was a former drug dealer and, for a time, people would bang on the door demanding drugs and/or money.
Thamesmead was also largely a white working class area. It wasn’t until the 1990s (around the time that I moved there) that it started to attract high levels of immigration, primarily from West Africa. Today Thamesmead has a slightly higher black African population (35.6%) population compared to the white British population (33.3%).
These high immigration levels coincided with a number of improvements which have made Thamesmead a better place to live. The opening of North Greenwich tube station (1999) and later the Woolwich DLR (2009) greatly improved transport links and made it a lot easier for people in Thamesmead to commute to the city. Greater transport links meant that people with city jobs were more likely to take advantage of lower rents. More shops started to appear. More houses were built for ‘key workers’. Crime levels appeared to have gone down considerably. You can walk outside at night in my neighbourhood without fear.
Thamesmead still isn’t perfect, and there are still areas which are dodgier than others, but in general it is almost unrecognisable from what it used to be. I’m not saying that immigration is responsible for these improvements, but the high levels of immigration that Thamesmead experienced during the ‘90s has a positive correlation with improved infrastructure, safer neighbourhoods and much better transport connections. Immigration may not be the golden ticket to better neighbourhoods, but it certainly doesn’t seem to have been a hindrance either.