I received a BNP leaflet through the door the other day from Kay Thomas, my local BNP candidate and meant to post on it straight away, but got distracted by Gillian Duffy and the whole ‘You can’t talk about immigration‘ issue. However, picking apart a BNP leaflet is too easy a task to ignore, and because the BNP are almost entirely created by a dishonest and ill-regulated press, then they are also an issue too important to ignore.
It is easy to get distracted from the real poison of BNP ‘literature’ on account of just how laughably terrible it is. What you have to remember is that nobody with a shred of intelligence or creativity could possibly be a BNP member, so when you get Nick Griffen’s chubby confused face overlapping the black and white face of Winston Churchill you have to remember that this is meant to create the notion that somehow they’re a bit similar. It isn’t supposed to just make Nick Griffen look very stupid. Likewise the phrases used are supposed to get you worked up and voting for the BNP, rather than just making you laugh out loud: ‘We’re NOT Second Class Citizens!’ screams the front of the leaflet. Then why do you keep saying we are? But the leaflet deserves more serious criticism as do the press which have created the mythical narratives that allows the BNP to create an entire manifesto on getting ‘even’ with immigrants and asylum seekers.
For example, take the two main pledges on the front page: ‘Put a stop to Immigration’ and ‘Raise the Weekly Pension to £150′; along with the claim of a BNP ‘voter’ on the back:
I’m voting BNP because I’m sick of seeing asylum seekers coming here and being given a better deal than our own pensioners! Charity begins at home and it’s time we looked after our elderly.
So, do asylum seekers ‘get a better deal’ than pensioners? And would ending immigration be a good thing? Interestingly, the two points are intimately linked, and not in the way that the BNP would like to imagine.
The current Basic State Retirement Pension for a single person is £95.25 per week and £152.30 for a couple. This is the full basic pension, requiring you to have worked and contributed full National Insurance payments for 30 years – an improvement under New Labour as previously you had to clock up 49 years for a man and 44 woman (a total that assumes work starts at 16 which is no longer the case for the majority of people). The basic pension is lower than the income support threshold, meaning that if a pensioner has no other income then they can top-up their pension with income support. This is a means-tested Pension Credit that brings up the weekly amount to £130 for a single person and £198.45 for a couple.
These sums are not massive, but a range of other benefits are available to pensioners. The main problem is a large percentage of pensioners do not claim all of the benefits that they are entitled to; one estimate suggests unclaimed benefits for pensioners can amount to as much as £5 billion annually.
Pensioners are an age group that a lot of political parties are keen to offer extra support to, and a group that are seen as being badly let down by the current government. They are also a group that tends to vote, so they are a key election demographic. However, they are also a problematic group because providing a basic state pension has become more and more expensive – irrespective of whether the weekly payments have increased or not. In 1949 there were approximately 4 million pensioners in the UK. There are now 10.5 million and this number is expected to rise to £14 million by 2050. This is largely because people are living longer than ever before, meaning that pensions are paid for longer periods to more people, making the basic state pension an increasingly expensive proposition.
This increase is compounded by the fact that population growth is slowing, meaning that there are fewer younger people entering employment. Currently there are 4.5 working people to contribute taxes towards each pensioner, by 2025 there will only be 3.5. One of the economic arguments being made for increased immigration is that we need to increase our working population in order to support our retired population. Immigrants offer a quick boost to the economy because they are not immediately entitled to benefits, they have not required state education in the UK and are therefore a ‘free’ source of tax revenue – because they do come here to work. However, the BNP is pledging to end immigration and increase the basic state pension, seems like they just haven’t thought this through and just want to keep foreigners out – almost as if they were just a racist party and nothing else. You will not see this point mentioned often – if at all – in the mainstream right-wing press either, but if you sit down and look at it then the positive economic contribution that immigrants make (£2.5 billion) is helping to fund the current state pension.
The reality is that if we want a more secure retirement we need a much larger working population and as this is not expected to be achieved through population growth then increased immigration is the only solution.
The real point that needs to repeatedly reiterated is that Asylum seekers are only a small group, and that they do not receive anywhere near the basic benefits of a pensioner. The reality is that asylum seekers receive a weekly living allowance set at just 70% of income support – the weekly payment for an asylum seeker over 25 is just £35.13, £95 (or 70%) less every week than a pensioner claiming income support; and just over half of what the government says a person needs to live on. Furthermore the vast majority of asylum seekers are not entitled to claim any of the following:
- Income Support
- Income-based Job Seekers Allowance
- Housing Benefit
- Council Tax Benefit
- Social Fund
- Disability Living Allowance
- Attendance Allowance
- Invalid Care Allowance
- Severe Disablement Allowance
- Non-contributory incapacity benefit
- Working Families’ Tax Credit
- Disabled Person’s Tax Credit
- Child Benefit
The UK asylum system is strictly controlled and this is reflected in the numbers of people seeking asylum in the UK. There were only 25,670 asylum applications to the UK in 2008. Applications have fallen by almost half over the last five years. The home office detains roughly 2,000 asylum-seeking children with their families each year. The treatment of asylum seekers is a national disgrace.
You will not read about any of the above in the vast majority of tabloid newspapers. Those newspapers instead prefer headlines like: ‘Asylum seekers are lured to the UK by its ‘enormous’ benefits, says Calais mayor in blistering attack on Britain‘ (The Daily Mail), ‘Former asylum seekers on benefits live in £1.8 million home‘ (The Daily Telegraph) and ‘Asylum seekers wrongly paid £10m in benefits‘ (London Evening Standard). These headlines are on the first 2 pages of Google results for ‘asylum seekers benefits’.
In a recent article on immigration I argued that tabloid newspapers are as poisonous as cigarettes in that you don’t have to directly read a tabloid newspaper to suffer, you are poisoned merely by existing in the same atmosphere as one. Just as the passive smoker inhales the carcinogens of the cigarette, so the passive tabloid reader inhales the toxic messages of the tabloid press. You cannot ignore tabloid newspapers anymore than you can dodge inhaling the smoke of a lit cigarette in your proximity. When a BNP leaflet lands on your doorstep urging you to vote BNP in order to stop putting asylum seekers above pensioners you are inhaling the toxins of a un-regulated tabloid press. When hatred and bigotry is typed onto glossy paper and posted through your door as a supposedly creditable political option then you should look not just towards the ignorant racists that put the message onto the leaflet, but also towards the tabloid newspapers who carefully created the message for them in the first place.
The next time you hear someone complaining about asylum seekers ‘getting it all’ or playing any part in the current economic crisis ask them how many people seek asylum in the UK each year. I doubt they would have a clue. Then ask them just how much an asylum seeker is entitled to each week, and what benefits they can claim. Again, I doubt that they have a clue. Yet they are happy to blame around 25,000 people living on just over half the amount that the government says a person needs to live on – 70% less than pensioners claiming income support – for ‘broken Britain’. Whenever someone exhales a tabloid lie about immigration or asylum seekers in your face, be as offended as you would be if a smoker exhaled cigarette smoke in your face. Say something, challenge them, let them know that parroting tabloid lies is not big and not clever. If you can make just one person see the reality the tabloids try so hard to obscure, then you’ve done something amazingly positive for humanity.