BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Thursday, 6 March 2008, 17:10 GMT
White Season

Street scene

By Jackie Long
BBC Newsnight

In towns and cities across the country, many white people it seems, are ill at ease. Marginalised. Angry. And ignored.

A Newsnight poll surveying the attitudes of white Britain on a range of issues from the economy, to crime and immigration, shows working class people in particular, feel their lives have got tougher over the past ten years.

As for the future, they see little sign of things getting any better, with the majority of white working class people believing no-one speaks for them in Britain any more.

White Briton poll details

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When we went out to test the poll findings in Derbyshire, few were offering up much dissent.

"I feel it's got worse and it's going to get worse," said Marie Rhodes, a barmaid at the Shirland Miners Welfare Club.

When asked why, Marie didn't talk about the economy or the specifics of the NHS but rather the loss of something to her, much bigger.

"It makes you sad because it's not your country any more. You feel, or should I say I feel, that I shouldn't be here any more. You don't feel as though you belong in the English country any more."

Marie's colleague Gary Unwin agrees. For him, the root of the problems facing Britain is immigration.

The pressure on public services, lack of housing, the fight for jobs, all he says, are caused by one thing.

"We've got far too many immigrants coming over into this country now," he said. "If they want a house and they've got five or six kids, they get one before the English do."

I don't know what the world's coming to. I'm glad I'm going out, not coming in.
Sheila Bentley, 92

And he agreed wholeheartedly with the 27% of working class people in the Newsnight survey who said, they believed, immigrants were putting their job at risk.

"They're paying them a lot less money than they've got to pay the Englishman so they take them on and the English men can't find jobs. They hold the Englishman back from getting a job."

So would he ration services or prioritise them in some way? "To tell you the truth, I wouldn't even let them into the country because they're just taking what Englishmen are entitled to."

But is there evidence that immigration is to blame for what people like Gary and Marie feel is happening to white working class communities like theirs?

Both conceded that immigration hasn't actually impacted directly on their lives. Shirland - an old mining village - remains almost exclusively white.

NHS operation
There seem to be people who come over to this country, who live abroad, purely and simply to have an operation

Since the pit closed in the mid-60s, jobs have been hard to find and like many such working class communities life can be tough.

But the perception, even fear, of immigration was almost overwhelming for both of them. And they were not alone.

Out on the streets of Matlock, a pretty spa town a few miles away, and there too, immigration was a major concern.

Anne, for example, was positive about her own experiences of the NHS but went on: "There seems to be, not that I know personally, but there seem to be people who come over to this country, who live abroad, but purely and simply to have an operation then go back and they haven't actually put money into the pot."

And that was typical of others. For some white working class people, being white it seems, is now seen almost exclusively through the prism of how their lives compare with those of the immigrants fighting to share the resources on offer.

"There certainly seems to be a tendency towards catering for minorities these days," said Marky Goodwin, echoing the views of 77% of working class people in the poll, who believe the British population is expected to fit in with new immigrants rather than the other way round.

Enoch Powell
I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see 'the River Tiber foaming with much blood'.
Enoch Powell

And like 88% of white working class people questioned, he also felt it was difficult to criticise immigration without being labelled a racist.

"Yes, definitely. You have to tread on eggshells every time you talk about it these days," he said.

But Katharine Lowe says not everyone is so quick to blame the problems faced by some white communities on immigration.

She says she wasn't surprised by the poll finding that 59% of working class white people felt schools were being asked to teach too many children who don't speak English.

'No future'

"People have limited opinions of things they haven't experienced themselves," she said. So what do they do? "Blame it on something that people have no knowledge of."

Back in the Shirland Miners Welfare Club and the OAPs were finishing their weekly game of bingo.

For 92-year-old Sheila Bentley there's no doubt that nobody speaks for people like her anymore.

She says she's depressed by the unfairness of people from "outside" - though she doesn't specify immigrants at any stage - being given houses that should belong to those born and bred here.

And she criticises a benefits system which doesn't, she says, benefit people like her.

Is she hopeful about the future for the white working classes? "There's not much future for these little ones. I don't know what the world's coming to. I'm glad I'm going out, not coming in."

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