The Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, urges us to welcome strangers into our country
- Credit: Archant
There has been a lot of talk about the Bulgarian and Romanian citizens who are now free to live and work in the UK after controls in place since 2007 expired. It’s hardly been a stampede since the gates opened at the turn of the year, but you wouldn’t realise this from the rhetoric.
If the scaremongering is to be believed, the UK is going to be flooded by a new wave of immigrants sponging off Universal Credit, clogging up the NHS and overcrowding our schools. I don’t buy in to this.
Given my background I tend to express this in religious terms, as the biblical encouragement to welcome the stranger in your midst, but the argument is similar for those who do not nail their colours to the religious mast. Human rights are the same in any language.
By exhorting us to show welcome, dignity and respect to the outsider and the stranger, Christianity pushes the definition of hospitality to the limit. It’s an ethic of unbounded and unbridled generosity – you find yourself by losing yourself, you gain life by giving it away, that sort of thing. And while this sort of abundant generosity does not easily translate into political action, we lay the personal challenge aside at our peril.
If this is to do with ethics, there is also the question of efficacy. I think the prophets of doom have simply got it wrong. Britain is an old, rich country with a low birth rate; we desperately need the energy, drive and productivity of highly-motivated young people. And historically, immigration has always provided a ready supply of this to complement and supplement our supply of home-grown talent.
London knows this better than anywhere. Nearly four in every 10 of London’s citizens were born outside of the UK – and this is a large part of the story of London’s success.
Eighty per cent of European immigrants over the past 10 years have been under the age of 34. Of course they are coming for the opportunities they see here, but they come highly motivated and full of enterprise. They are not leaving their country lightly and they won’t find it easy. We owe it to them (and ourselves) to welcome them warmly.