Some fascintating statistics on the changing shape of the UK population were being bandied about last week. Apparently, almost one baby in four (21.9% of all births) is now delivered to a mother who was born overseas. That compares with the equivalent figure from ten years ago of one baby in eight (12.8%). In some parts of Greater London,we are told, seven out of 10 babies are now delivered to mothers born overseas.
The figures also revealed how the total number of babies born to British born mothers in the last year has fallen by 44,000 but that the births by all foreign born mothers in the same period rose by 64,000, a 77% increase that has pushed the overall birth-rate to its highest level for 26 years.
As Mark Twain famously said, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Even if these statistics are accurate, I can't help but think that they're being used to push a particular angle - which for the sake of argument, I'm going to call the Enoch Powell angle. Presumably all this means that the Great British language and culture is under serious threat from a tidal wave of fast-breeding immigrants (I can picture the headlines in the Daily Mail now - they're going to breed us into extinction!). The BBC was certainly using these figures last week to suggest that this flood of non-British born demand was placing the NHS under intolerable pressure: the unacceptable standards found in some of our maternity and neo-natal units can be squarely blamed on a lack of resources to deal with the pressures of this migration.
But even if these figures are true, there are loads of other things that I want to know too: are these figures particularly unusual? What's the context? How do they compare with other nations, like the USA? How do they compare with British birthrates over the last 100 or 200 years, for example, not just the last 10? At any given time, what proportion of the British population could be classified as having been "born overseas"? Presumably there was a time in modern British history when thousands and thousands of British Citizens were being born in places like Kenya and India and Ceylon and places like that. My own Grandmother was born in Calcutta, for heaven's sake.
Leaving aside the historical context of these figures, how about telling us how many of these "foreign" mothers actually pay their full share of tax? The popular image will no doubt be of the immigrant scrounger, out for whatever they can get from our juicy, pushover public services. But the truth is that many of these "foreign" mothers will hold down full time jobs. Even if they don't work at all, they are still contributing tax into the system through the VAT they pay on everything that they buy... are we saying that it's somehow wrong that they should have access to our health system? What are we suggesting? That they should go somewhere else?
How many of these "foreigners" are actually married to British born men or have full UK Citizenship?
How many of the children born to these "foreigners" are being delivered by non-British born doctors or nurses who the government have brought in to make up for skill shortages in the NHS?
And so on.
When the media presents us with statistics like these, they are not seeking to inform us, they are seeking to fuel our prejudices. It is the drip-feed of stories like this that builds up the fear and distrust of foreigners in this country by increments....
But what is there to be afraid of? Really? The British are a mongrel race, built on the mixed stock brought about by several millennia worth of invasions and by the ebb and flow of empires. Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Celts, Romans, Normans.... And who knows what came in the centuries before that lot? Our culture is not under any kind of threat from immigration; rather, our culture is, and always has been, defined by these successive waves of migrants.
Embrace it and embrace them.
Besides, how can it be a bad thing that you can now get powidl and slivovitz in your local supermarket?