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February 05, 2004

Brown flight & the British magnet

Attached is a copy of an article from The Economist that documents the flight of Asian Britons from Southall. I have also attached another piece that documents the impact of freedom of movement through the EU on England.

Update: A friend forwarded me this from a friend:

How interesting. I live on the Greenford borders, so I am not in the thick of it. I wake up, go to work in the city, go out in the city and go home to sleep. Thats my level of involvement with my home town - I just sleep with it ;-) I dont agree with [name deleted] completely, the hoards of young asian professionals on the platforms of Southall train station tell quite a different story. Whilst its true that there has been an influx of war crims etc, there is still a batch of successful Sikh businessman, the Kabuli sardars are selling counterfeit goods down the Broadway, but they are not killing anyone, they are not even importing heroin. The Somalis and the Albanians on the other hand, are a different kettle of fish. The Somalis from their vast plains and no sense of civic liberties or social grace. They think that they are still in Mogadishu. The Albanians ... well thats a long story... not for work email.

I'd move out in an instant, if only the housing market would crash for me.


Moving out

Asian flight
Feb 5th 2004
From The Economist print edition

Established immigrants flee the incoming hordes

NO BRITISH neighbourhood is so intensely sub-continental as Southall. On South Road, sari shops and paan salesmen nestle next to the Himalaya Palace cinema, which purveys the latest Bollywood blockbusters. While Punjabi Sikhs and Muslims predominate, though, the streets are less homogeneous than they used to be. New faces, many of unfamiliar hues, have arrived in the area. And that does not please the established residents.

“The neighbourhood is getting worse,” according to Ashraf Jussab, a Malawi-born Asian Muslim who works at a local nursery. “When I came here, in 1973, it was safe and enjoyable. Now it has become a dumping ground for asylum-seekers. War criminals, murderers—they are all coming to Southall.”

The immigrants causing Mr Jussab and others so much distress are a mixed group of Afghans, Somalis, Kosovans and east Europeans. Like the Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who came to London three decades ago, many are refugees; also like the Asians, their arrival has been controversial. But while the outcry over asylum-seekers has been loudest in middle England, it is Asian neighbourhoods like Southall that are actually seeing many of the new immigrants. Among local youths, tensions are rising: one local pastor describes the mood as “dynamite”.

For those who can afford it, and do not wish to fight, flight appears the most appealing option. Southall's Punjabis are heading to Hayes, on the western fringe of London, and to towns in the Thames valley. In Wembley, estate agents report an accelerating drift of middle-class Indians to more distant leafy suburbs like Harrow, Stanmore and Bushey.

The Asian exodus closely follows a trail blazed years ago by London's Jews. This is partly deliberate. Wembley's Gujuratis, in particular, are keen to emulate a group that they perceive as ambitious, educated and family-minded. And the Jews also have the virtue of tolerance. Were Asians to head in other directions, they would run into the people who left London specifically in order to get away from them. For that reason, much of Essex is out; so is Broxbourne, a Hertfordshire settlement just north of the capital that voted overwhelmingly for the British National Party in a 2002 local election.

This shuffling of ethnic groups has produced some new patterns. Harrow, which now contains at least 40,000 Hindus (more than any other borough in the country), is also the second most Jewish area in London. In Redbridge, 28,000 Muslims live alongside Jews, Hindus and Sikhs—each community more than 10,000 strong.

One route remains unexplored, however. Despite the fond imaginings of the BBC, which has placed an Asian family in “The Archers”, a carrot-crunching radio drama, few have explored village life. Earlier experience suggests that such a move would be hazardous to communal identity. Barry Kosmin, who heads the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, says that those Jews who brave the countryside mostly abandon traditional observances.

Indeed, even Asians driven out by the new wave of asylum-seekers have found that it pays to keep in touch with the old neighbourhood. In Southall, absentee landlords have begun to rent space to Afghan trinket dealers and gangs of Kosovan car washers. In Wembley, departing Asians are not so much selling up as remortgaging, subdividing and letting. Repeating another old pattern, yesterday's strivers have become today's slumlords.


Those roamin' Roma
From The Economist print edition

The government may change the benefit system to deal with the threat that lots of poor central Europeans will turn up when the European Union expands in May

AN UNSTOPPABLE tide of British journalists is flooding into eastern Slovakia, swamping law-abiding local residents with demands for free interviews. The reason for the hacks' sudden interest in the obscurer bits of central Europe is that Britain has just woken up to one of the consequences of the enlargement of the European Union on May 1st—the free movement of people and labour, including the wretchedly poor Roma minorities of new member-states like Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Have freedom of movement, will travel

The reaction to the idea that Roma might choose to exercise their right to move to Britain has been—to put it mildly—uncharitable. The Daily Express proclaimed on January 20th—“The Roma gypsies of Eastern Europe are heading to Britain to leech on us. We do not want them here.” Reports like this prompted Denis MacShane, Britain's Europe minister, to speak out in Parliament against “rancid hate campaigns” in the British press, which he likened to the demonisation of Jewish immigrants in the 1930s. But Tony Blair is clearly feeling the pressure. On February 4th, he suggested that Britain might re-examine its “concessions” to would-be workers from the new EU members and will tighten up the welfare system to prevent possible abuse.

But while the language used by some newspapers is repellent, they may have identified a real issue. Incomes are low and unemployment rates high across much of central Europe. But conditions are much worse still for the Roma minorities, who number about 1.5m in the countries joining the EU this year, and another 3m or so in Romania and Bulgaria, which are on schedule to join in 2007. In Hungary the poverty rate is about five times greater among Roma than among non-Roma, the World Bank reported last year.

The poorest of Slovakia's 500,000 or so Roma live in clusters of wooden shacks without mains water or sewerage, on refuse-strewn wasteland, often segregated from “white Slovak” housing. Families pack into freezing huts. Roma were usually the first to lose their jobs when communism collapsed. Whole villages have been living for years on meagre child-benefit payments, charity and foraging. With no jobs to be had, parents have lost sight of the link between education and employment, so many Roma children are growing up unschooled.

Slovakia's “Roma parliament”, a community body, said last month that the favoured destinations for Roma emigrants this year would be Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Czech Republic. Many may be too poor to make the trip to Britain. But for those who can scrape £60 ($110) together, there is a flight from Bratislava to London.

The British government is under particular pressure because it is throwing the labour market open immediately to workers from the new member-states. The south-east of England is already awash with Polish builders and nannies. More may come in May when the remaining restrictions lapse—and a good thing too. But would those who fail to find work be eligible for welfare benefits?

That is not clear. A senior diplomat in one of the accession countries says that he has appealed to London several times for guidance, but that the answers he has received have been incomprehensible and contradictory. One thing is clear, however: EU countries cannot introduce laws that discriminate against other EU citizens on grounds of nationality, so the benefit rules that apply to Britons must apply to immigrants from the rest of the EU.

Other EU countries clearly fear that their welfare systems might be open to abuse. Last week, Goran Persson, the Swedish prime minister, said that workers from the new member-states would, “once inside our country, have access to the entire social security safety net. I expect enormous problems unless we protect ourselves.” The Swedes—and almost all other EU countries except Britain and Ireland—will require workers from eastern Europe to get work permits for the first few years.

Britain is—so far—resisting taking similar measures. British officials point out that insisting on permits for those who want to work will do nothing to roll back one of the fundamental freedoms of the EU—the freedom to move from one country to another. Even without the right to work, central European immigrants could apply for the bottom level of the British social safety net—means-tested payments such as income support and housing benefit.

To qualify for those, applicants must meet a test of “habitual residence” in Britain. This used to be defined as six months' unbroken residence, but the conditions were softened after complaints from Britons who had spent time abroad. Government officials are talking of reintroducing a well-defined “habitual residence” test.

Would such a measure—combined with the fact that the most generous benefits are restricted to people with a record of employment—solve the problem? Not necessarily. Central Europe's poor may still come, on the grounds that poverty in Britain is unlikely to be worse than destitution is Slovakia; and, as one British minister puts it, “If people are lying around on the streets, we won't leave them to die.” The burden of providing emergency housing and food would fall on local social-services departments. This kind of help is normally regarded as strictly temporary, until a more permanent solution can be found. What that solution might be in the case of Roma immigrants is unclear.

Posted by razib at 03:44 PM