WAS there ever a bigger fuss about nothing than the fevered anticipation of a tsunami of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants to the UK following the lowering of European Union travel restrictions?
Politicians who seem to be unduly fixated on the issue of immigration stoked a fear in certain quarters that Britain would be awash with eastern European immigrants following the 1 January change in rules.
The sometimes hysterical build-up to the date meant that New Year’s Day saw reporters waiting at London bus and rail terminals to interview the invading hordes – only to find a bemused student or two who were puzzled about why they were primetime news.
New figures make the fuss seem all the more ridiculous – the number of Romanians and Bulgarians employed in the UK looks to have actually dropped under the new system.
The number of Bulgarians and Romanians working in the UK stood at 140,000 between January and March, according to the Office for National Statistics. This was a drop of 4,000 on the last three months of 2013.
As we head towards the European Parliament elections next week, the issue of immigration is hard to avoid. The UK Independence Party (Ukip) has built its growing support by playing on people’s fears about what immigration means for them and their communities. Wrapped up in the latent anti-EU sentiment in much of the population, this has turned into a potent political force which now claims a substantial chunk of English public opinion and a growing share north of the Border too.
Few issues divide like immigration.
Mainstream politicians know that a healthy influx of immigrants is a key engine of national prosperity, and when we Scots fall behind the rest of the UK in economic growth it is often blamed at our relative inability to attract large numbers of incomers. Of course, concerns about immigration are not simply a demonstration of people’s baser nature. There is a legitimate worry about the strain on public services in areas with a large immigrant influx – although in Scotland this is much less of a problem than in certain parts of London. The scope of immigrants’ access to benefits is also a legitimate area for debate.
However, all the empirical evidence suggests immigrants are more entrepreneurial than those born here, and that, proportionately, they claim fewer benefits than native Britons. Fears about widespread “benefit tourism” are simply not supported by evidence.
And yet the fears stubbornly remain.
Some politicians are capable of rising above the smears – London mayor Boris Johnson has opposed tighter visa restrictions and Alex Salmond has said we should welcome new Scots to our shores. Sensible and legitimate immigration need hold no fear.
Inspiration who faced up to cancer
CANCER. There can be few more powerful words in the English language, and it can elicit a wide range of reactions in those who find themselves on the receiving end of a diagnosis.
Stephen Sutton was under no illusions about his prognosis, but the 19-year-old – who died yesterday three days after being readmitted to hospital for treatment for bowel cancer – chose to respond in a way that has been an inspiration to millions.
The conflicting emotions of his mother Jane were all too clear in the poignant statement she issued yesterday: “My heart is bursting with pride but breaking with pain for my courageous, selfless, inspirational son who passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early hours.”
What people recognised in Stephen’s charity work in the final four years of his life following his diagnosis was not just his energy, determination and bravery in the face of great discomfort, debilitation and pain. That was impressive enough. But it was his spirit, his cheerfulness and his sense of mischief, despite everything, that captivated those who became caught up in his charity-raising exploits. Yesterday the amount of money he had raised for good causes stood at £3.3 million and at time of going to press was still rising. It is an extraordinary effort that has rightly won the admiration of the highest in the land.
Cancer may have ultimately taken this young man, but he showed us all how to look it squarely in the eye.
His family are right to be fiercely proud of a remarkable young man who, in his short number of years, made an indelible mark.
Stephen Sutton was, quite literally, death-defying.