Are Poles really leaving the UK? How many of them are in the UK now? Report by Wiktor Moszczynski of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain.
I propose to say a few words about the Polish community who form the bulk of the so-called A8 nationals who have come to this country in large numbers since 2004.
I am not really in a position to talk about the other nationals - Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians, Czechs, Hungarians, Slovaks and Slovenes, except to say that their experience mirrors that of the Poles who have come here, to a smaller degree. Poles form 60% of the total intake if these new arrivals from the 8 accession states from Central (not Eastern) Europe that joined the European Union in 2004. I also wish to stress that the citizens from these states who come to the UK tend to see themselves as EU citizens or EU workers with their families, rather than as migrants.
So how many Poles are there in the UK? There are more solid facts in the study of Astrology than in the study of Polish Demographics in the UK. Government statistics seem to be based on four major sources of information about the number of Poles in the UK. The first two are the Labour Force Survey and the International Passenger Surveys. Both are flawed because they are based on random samples not on solid total figures, though undoubtedly the former survey does give an interesting sociological glimpse about possible trends in the Polish community in Britain. The latter survey is of little use as it fails to record anything except arrivals through the major London airports and Channel Tunnel and takes little consideration of arrivals and departures from provincial airports. In any case a border control system that records people entering the country but not leaving it leaves a much skewed picture of immigration in this country which is exploited by organizations like Migration Watch UK and the British National Party.
The third source is the Worker Registration Scheme which was introduced in 2004 in order to regulate A8 citizens seeking to work here. It required everyone seeking employment to register at a cost of £50 (now £90), and then to register again (free of charge) every time they change jobs. The act of regulation was supposed to ensure that new A8 workers would also be paying taxes and national insurance. It was seen as a useful tool at the beginning, both for the Government which was seen to act responsibly in the face of a large influx of new workers (then estimated at about 13,000 new arrivals every year), and for new arrivals to help accommodate them to settlement and to legal employment in the UK, which would also assure them immediately of rights to child benefit and to use of the health service. After one year, if they should lose heir jobs, they would be eligible for other subsidies such as jobseekers allowance. According to WRS statistics administered by the Home Office a total of 327,538 Poles registered for work between May 2004 and December 2006. A lower figure, some 150,000 Poles registered in 2007, of which 38,000 in the last quarter. On February 16th 2008 "The Times" noted this drop, got very excited and announced that the Poles were leaving the UK.
This information was misleading because of the innate flaws of the WRS. The truth is the WRS is expensive and bureaucratic and it never covered the many thousands of Poles who declared themselves to be self-employed. Furthermore few Poles bothered to record changes in employment after one year. When newly arrived Poles or formerly self-employed Poles sought to register after 2006, Home Office advice was not to bother as registration was no longer compulsory. Later they found that failing to register made them ineligible to all benefits except child benefit. The regional statistics based on WRS also proved highly unreliable, noting, for instance low figures in Northern Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, where they were high and showing Camden and Westminster as the London boroughs with the largest population of Poles, when all other evidence showed that the largest concentrations were in Ealing, Brent and Haringey. They showed that the largest group of Poles worked in administration, business and management, which sounds optimistic until you realize that this covers all the cheap recruitment agencies.
We have found the fourth statistical source, the National Insurance Registration figures, to be the most reliable source of information on Poles in this country, though imperfections remain. We trust the NI figures both at national and local level because they correlate with other important local statistics such as the number of children speaking Polish, numbers of Polish births and numbers of Polish citizens on the electoral register. Between 2001 and 2006 - 333,000 Poles had been registered for National Insurance. In the year 2006/2007 a further 223,000 were registered making a total of 556.000. Please note that that last year showed an actual increase, not a decrease in registration, on the previous year.
However it is generally accepted that there are more Poles who have come here and have not registered for work but are working nonetheless. Many of these are seasonal. The total Polish Embassy estimate last year was 600,000 with more during the summer season. Statistics from Poland indicate that perhaps up to a million have come here but not necessarily stayed, or may have come more than once in a year. Let us also not forget 57,000 British residents recorded as being of Polish origin in the 2001 Census, plus a further 100,000 or so second and third generation Poles living in this country. The best solution is to say there are 800,000 Poles in the UK including the older indigenous Polish population.
A useful guide to their geographical distribution throughout the UK is to record which constituencies had more than 1000 new Poles registered for National Insurance in the last year. Here is the list: Acton and Shepherds Bush, Bedford, Birmingham Ladywood, Birmingham Perry Bar, Boston & Skegness, Brent East, Brent South, Brentford and Isleworth, Crewe and Nantwich, Doncaster Central, Hackney North, Hornsey & Wood Green, Leeds Central, Leicester West, Mitcham & Morden, Northampton South, Nottingham East, Oxford East, Peterborough, Salford, Southall, Southampton Test, Streatham, Walthamstow, West Ham, Aberdeen North, Edinburgh East, Glasgow Central and Inverness & Nairn. Also 5 constituencies recorded more than 2000 new NI registered Poles: Ealing North, Luton South, Slough, Tottenham and Edinburgh North & Leith. 8900 Poles were also registered in Northern Ireland last year.
According to the DWP, one third of the Poles who came before 2006 are employed in administration business and management, 22% in hospitality and catering, 10% in agriculture, 8% in manufacturing, 6% in the health service, 5% in food processing, just under 5% in the retail trade and the same again in the construction industry. There is therefore a wider variety than the Polish plumber and builder. Their input into agriculture has been particularly appreciated in Scotland and rural areas like Wales and Lincolnshire where they have effectively rescued Britain's fresh food production. Their work ethic is much admired by their employers and they are often seen to take jobs that the indigenous population have failed to take up. According to the IOD, out of 500 employers surveyed by them 61% say they hire Poles because of their superior skills and only 16% because they were cheaper. 32% of this workforce has had a university education; more than 90% are less than 40 years old.
And yet according to other surveys conducted in 2006, some 80% were employed initially in the region of £4.50 and £5.99 per hour, so just below and above the national minimum wage. This is almost certainly changed as more and more Poles are making promising careers in areas such as accountancy, banking and responsible jobs in industry and administration but a lot are kept in low pay jobs and often work illegal hours and in dangerous forms of employment without adequate insurance for injuries. Driven here by the then 19% unemployment rate in Poland and by an average monthly wage of £800 a month, they found even these low paid jobs attractive especially if they economized by staying in tied accommodation or in low quality multi-occupational housing with hot bedding and some 3 to a room. Many of those with a poor knowledge of English were exploited both by English employers and Polish middlemen who often cheated them of their hard-earned money. The action of trades unions in seeking to recruit Polish workers, in fighting for better pay and working conditions for them has been an invaluable help, as has the tightening up of the licensing of gang masters in agriculture and the food industry. Unfortunately workers in the hospitality and construction industries do not have the same protection and remain exposed to unregistered recruitment agencies.
According to surveys conducted by the University of Surrey in 2006, some 16% of those who came here had a specific short term aim to earn enough to buy property or invest in a business in Poland. 20% are here to earn money seasonally and rarely stay more than 6 months at a time though they are ready to return the following year, 22% were ready to stay here long term, perhaps permanently, and some 42% had simply no definite plan about their future. Because of this it has been particularly difficult to predict the future trends or to invest in more permanent institutions. Poles remain highly mobile. Cheap coach journeys and economy flights from provincial airports ensure that 80% of them travel back and forth between Poland and UK at least once (and often several times) a year, and 70% retain regular contact with families by phone, mobile and money transfer. For this reason any statistics based on border crossings are meaningless in measuring the number of Poles in UK.
The same survey showed that 72% come from rural backgrounds or from small provincial towns in Poland and these are the people least likely to have a knowledge of English, least likely to know their rights as employees and tenants and least aware of how to adapt to a multiethnic society. About 38% questioned for instance showed a racist attitude to intermarriage, although a majority were ready to conform to British standards. Those with young families found it much easier to adapt as their children went to school and learned about the British way of life, though this can still remain a problem with older Polish teenagers in secondary schools in inner urban areas who often resent being brought to the UK and separated from their friends in Poland by their parents.
Much of this would improve with time but there is also a discernible rise in hate crimes against Poles particularly outside the large cities. In rural communities the Polish minorities are highly visible. Poles are not just the victims of crime. Newspapers articles and the police have referred to the large number of crimes committed by Poles in the UK, more than 7000 arrestable offences in 2007. Overwhelmingly these are for lesser crimes and the possibility of a Polish citizen being arrested in the UK is statistically 3 times less likely than it would be for an ordinary resident in the UK. A particular problem is the high proportion of motoring offences, especially drink-driving. Polonophobic sentiments continue to fester, particularly among British residents with a low level of economic or social achievement, and this sentiment is sustained by sensational headlines in newspapers like the "Daily Mail".
Local police forces, local authorities and health trusts are often overwhelmed by the need for Polish translators, Polish advice centres and places at day schools. There were 7179 children registered in London local authority schools alone last year with Polish as a first language. There is a tug of war between local authorities and the central government based again on a different interpretation of statistics. The recent introduction by the Government of Exceptional Circumstances Grants and the New Arrivals Excellence Programme to help local authorities with a high number of foreign pupils is to be welcomed.
A further complication for the local health trusts is the difficulty for Poles to register with local health clinics and GPs because of a lack of utility bills and then this causes them to overutilize the A&E departments of local hospitals for the slightest medical problem.
According to the National Bank of Poland about £4bn are sent each year by Polish workers in the UK to their families at home. However according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research the Polish workforce contributed £12 billion to the British economy in the years 2004 to 2006. So both economies have gained from their presence. According to Piotr Grzeszkiewicz, director of recruitment agency Sara-Int, the Polish workforce contributes about £1.9 billion a year to the British exchequer in income tax and national insurance and this does not include council tax.
While Poles with families can claim child benefit (some £21 million), regardless of whether their children are in the UK or Poland, only 3% of the Polish workforce are eligible for out of work subsidies like the Job Seekers Allowance after working here for more than a year and then being made redundant.
Many of these Poles came to the UK because of the vibrant economy and the opportunities offered by the British Government in its courageous decision in 2004 to open the British labour market to the A8 countries. But an added attraction was a historic wartime link between Poland the UK reinforced by the presence of a large Polish community in this country since the end of the Second World War. This older community saw themselves initially as temporary political exiles but once it had accustomed itself to the fact it would not returning to a free independent Poland, it sought to settle permanently in Britain in the spirit of integration but without assimilation. It was enriched by new waves of Polish immigrants in the 1950s and 1980s. Over the decades, the Polish diaspora became a model for integration of other communities into the UK. The new Polish arrivals in this decade appeared to almost swamp the older community and the two initially lived totally separate lives but the presence of the older settlers is making it much easier for the new Polish arrivals to adapt themselves slowly to British life.
There is a vibrant Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales, independent of the British Roman Catholic hierarchy. It administers over 134 parishes, but in fact mass can be heard every week in at least 224 places of worship around England and Wales. The Polish church in Ealing sees an average 5000 Polish worshippers attending one of eight masses each Sunday. The Polish Catholic Mission in Scotland has 18 parishes. Many of these Polish churches also have charity volunteers who give advice to the homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics and their families.
The Federation of Poles in Great Britain is an umbrella organization for the traditional Polish secular organizations in the UK and has over 80 member organizations, of which nearly 10 are from the new community. There are 74 Polish Saturday schools teaching the Polish language and customs from nursery age to A level courses. The largest such school in Ealing has around 600 pupils. There are two Polish universities in London.
There is a Polish Daily which has been published in London since 1942 and 5 weekly magazines some with a print run of over 25,000 distributed throughout all the major Polish centres. There are 3 radio stations and an internet TV station now linked to the Sky channel. All of these play a major role in seeking to integrate the new Poles into British society and British economy while sustaining interest in Polish culture, traditions and news from the homeland. Apart from the churches and media there is a lot of useful advice from Polish speaking staff in free advice centres subsidized by both Polish and UK funding, although some private firms exploit the unwary charging high prices for simple translations and photocopying. The Polish Consulate used to be overwhelmed with people seeking help but they are coping better now and are opening a branch in Manchester.
There are several hundred Polish firms in the construction, production and retail industries as well as some 100,000 self-employed Poles in various cottage industries. Polish food, fresh as well as tinned, is available in thousands of outlets throughout the country from Indian shops, Polish delicatessens through to the big supermarkets. High street banks vie for Polish business and make it possible for Central Europeans to open a bank account without the need for utility bills. There is a visible Polish presence on the streets of Britain, in places of entertainment and on public transport.
Certainly growth in the Polish economy and a change in the exchange rate of the zloty to the pound (from 7.2 per £ in 2004 to 4.83 per £ this month) have contributed to a slow down in the arrivals of Poles in the UK by the end of last year. Some 22,000 have gone back permanently. Many have returned because they had achieved their short term goals and there are more opportunities in Poland constructing Stadiums and roads for the 2012 UEFA championships. Large cities like Warsaw, Wroclaw and Gdansk are urging Poles with their newly acquired skills to return ("But not all at once," said the Deputy Mayor of Gdansk in a TV interview in December). Other EU countries are now opening their labour markets to the Poles as well. The election results in October last year, leading to the collapse of the eccentric Kaczynski government have also removed an important psychological barrier to Poles returning but the unresolved issue of double taxation on earnings in the UK and suspended social benefits in Poland after a 2 year absence will remain a barrier for many homesick Poles until they are resolved.
There is no doubt that the peak of Polish visitors has been passed but we do not expect a mass migration of Poles out of the UK. We estimate that in 5 years time some 60% of those Poles who settled here will not have left, especially those with good employment prospects or with children in English schools. Probably about 20% will remain here permanently but in an age of increasing migration this will become less and less noticeable and all EU citizens should feel at home wherever they are in the European Union.
Nevertheless in view of some of the problems that I mentioned I believe that there is a need for a coordinated approach between the Department of Communities and Local Government, the DWP and the Home Office to ensure that
1/ Arrival figures no longer become a measure of migration for EU citizens unless they are balanced with departure figures
2/ An accurate nationwide summary is drawn up of all local government statistics on Polish children in schools, Poles on electoral registers, records on local employment, local births and deaths, to be published by the Office of National Statistics
3/ An interim National Census should be held every 5 years
4/ There should be a permanent police unit monitoring crime statistics on Poles as victims and perpetrators
5/ Free lessons in the English language and UK civics for all Polish citizens offered through their places of employment or in local community centres
6/ Greater participation by the Polish community representatives in the work of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Migration Impact Forum and all government studies reviewing the role of foreign nationals, as in the NHS
7/ Easier access for Poles to register with GP surgeries
8/ Scaling down or even the suspension of the Worker Registration Scheme for A8 nationals
9/ Licensing of Gangmaster Agencies should be extended to the construction and hospitality industries
10/ Definition of Racism should be legally extended to discrimination on grounds of nationality or ethnic origin and be a recognized as a disciplinary offence for public employees.
Zjednoczenie Polskie w Wielkiej Brytanii