Britain confirms migrant tax amid anti-foreigner warning

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : The British government Thursday confirmed that workers and students from India and other countries outside Europe will have to pay a 50 pound tax for public services, prompting warnings that it risked stoking anti-immigrant sentiment among the general population.

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The government said the ‘migrant tax’ starting later this year will go toward funding public services, such as health and education, in specific areas with large non-EU migrant populations.

But the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a centre-left thinktank, said the government should be careful about how it presents the tax, which is expected to raise 70 million pounds over the next two years, to the British people.

“The migration transition fund is a good way of getting money to public services quickly, to cover costs for interpreters for example, but we should remember that most migrants are young and fit and not heavy users of public services,” said Jill Rutter, senior research fellow in IPPR’s migration team.

“Government and local public services must be careful not to fuel anti-migrant sentiments by suggesting that migrants place strains on schools, the police and the NHS [National Health Service].

“In reality, migrants contribute to public service provision through taxation and as public service workers,” she added.

Communities Secretary (Minister) Hazel Blears said Thursday that although Britain derived a “significant” long-term benefit from migrants, who would play a vital role in the country’s recovery from recession, it would have to deal with associated short-term pressures on local public services including councils, schools, health and policing.

The tax, known as the Migration Impacts Fund, would be used to pay for extra school teachers, targeted support for policing, English language lessons and healthcare support, she said.

“Migration brings significant benefits for this country. But it is a complex area never far from heated public debate. That is why we need an honest discussion about it, that acknowledges the local pressures which migration can create in our communities and on our public services,” Blears said.

However, the one-time fee, which will be charged when immigrants arrive in Britain, was criticised by the thinktank Migrationwatch as too little – less than seven percent of the 517 million pounds that it says is spent by the government every year on programmes to tackle the impact of immigration.

“The government say the new tax will raise 35 million pounds per year. This may sound impressive, but it is a drop in the ocean compared with the huge sums spent each year by the government as it tries to help society cope with the impact of immigration both nationally and at the local level,” said Migrationwatch chairman Andrew Green.