Polish migrant workers made the news in the UK once more in March as around thirty men were reported by a local Lincolnshire newspaper to be living in tents by the River Witham. The article was accompanied by pictures of tents in woodland, with tree branches used as washing lines. The Poles were said to be living thanks to the kind hearts of locals who gave them food.
The situation of the camping migrants is more complex than simply asking for something to eat, as the Poles’ passports have expired and without these they cannot find legal work. What is more, in order to renew the document or to request a loan from the Polish embassy to return home, the migrants would need to travel to London or Manchester, which they also cannot afford. In this way, without valid passports, they stand no chance of being employed. As some of the homeless have lived in the UK for less than 12 months they are not entitled to claim any benefits.
The atmosphere around Polish migrant workers has rarely been enthusiastic, and now with unemployment soaring the attitude seems to be becoming more hostile. Poles are being perceived as guilty of depriving British citizens of their jobs, and some Poles have complained that they are suffering from “hate crimes.” The Federation of Poles in Great Britain is said to be concerned about the growing number of racist incidents in which Poles are victims. Reading the comments to the article about Poles living in a “shanty town”, it comes as no surprise.
The figures of British-born citizens losing their jobs followed by the increase of non-UK workers create a picture of a Britain invaded by migrants who not only take away jobs from British citizens but also claim benefits. The truth is somewhere in between, as all migrants who work legally, regardless of the period of their stay in Britain, pay standard taxes. As Dr. Jan Mokrzycki of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain commented to the Independent, “People are losing work and if they haven’t been here for a year they are not entitled to any benefits so they end up on the streets. There are some cases where people have come here on false promises, spending everything they have, and then finding the work they were told was waiting for them just doesn’t exist.”
Dr Mokrzycki estimates that about 1,500 Poles have reached the point of sleeping rough on Britain’s streets. There has been a marked increase in such cases since the so-called “credit crunch” took hold in autumn. Simultaneously, the number of Polish workers in the UK has dropped from about one million to about 600,000. Fewer and fewer Poles are trying their luck in the emigration gamble. As Dr Mokrzycki told the Independent, there is a wake-up call that “the streets of Britain are not paved with gold.”
Nevertheless, although many Poles are aware that Britain is no longer booming, some migrants prefer to stay in the UK rather than to go back to Poland, despite the trying conditions they find themselves in. For those in the direst straits, who have invalid passports and no right to benefits, and above all no chance of finding a job, it seems the only solution lies with the Polish embassy taking action.