This week, both in the national and local media, there’s been a debate about our country’s obligation as a world power, to the weak, powerless, voiceless and itinerant millions across the globe affected by war and religious intolerance.
Peterborough City Council has announced its decision to take 5 Syrian families a year over the next four years as part of the Government’s commitment to the international response to that country’s civil war and the migrant crisis engulfing Europe. I broadly support the move, which recognises in a proportionate way our moral duty to help the most desperate people in the world – particularly children. I would hope that at least one family come from a persecuted religious minority such as Middle East Christians.
In addition, I fully respect those people in Peterborough who oppose the plans and make the very reasonable point that the city has fully discharged its responsibilities on immigration in the last few years and its public services are already under pressure: Such opinions are not racist but are a reflection of the truth and demonising those who take such a viewpoint, is dishonest and despicable and often designed to close down debate.
However, my support comes with a few caveats: Although the new refugees will be substantially funded by the Department for International Development for two years, I don’t believe that is good enough: It is wrong for that Department to bail out after just two years and leave local authorities like Peterborough to pick up the tab in areas like schooling, housing, health and social care (and benefits) for many more years – their funding must be open ended: After all, we would be financing the same people in camps in Turkey and Jordan for more than two years. So why not in the UK?
In addition, they should learn English quickly and be trained up for employment as soon as possible, so that they can become good British citizens, imbued with our country’s values.
On a related issue, it’s completely unacceptable that we learnt this week the UK Government makes a fetish of spending 0.7% of its national wealth on international aid, when no other advanced country in the world does – and this will amount will increase to £16 billion by the end of this Parliament. When we have so many pressing domestic priorities in health, social care and education, such a policy is indefensible, particularly as we have seen very serious examples of waste, corruption and lack of accountability of UK taxpayers’ cash as well as inappropriate expenditure, such as English lessons in Moldova and elderly care in China!
We must review this policy and make sure that the link with national wealth is broken and we return to a more sensible focused project-based system.
At the moment, these spending priorities cause real anger and resentment and undermine our country’s justified humanitarian reputation and role as a compassionate world leader.