Where are the rivers of blood?

Our poll paints a depressing picture of how people feel about multiculturalism and integration: 40% of people felt Enoch Powell had been right to predict…

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Chapter : Where are the rivers of blood?

Our poll paints a depressing picture of how people feel about multiculturalism and integration: 40% of people felt Enoch Powell had been right to predict rivers of blood, while 41% thought he had been wrong.

But this isn’t a popularity contest: there is fact and fiction, and the reality is that Powell was wrong. The views he espoused in his speech weren’t just abhorrent, they have been discredited by the passage of time.


“In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.”


This has not happened.

Powell’s racist scaremongering hasn’t come to pass. In fact the opposite is true. Race inequality remains entrenched and far-reaching across many areas of society. Only 36 of the UK’s 1,000 most powerful people are from Black and minority groups. That’s just 3% of the UK’s top political, financial, judicial, cultural and security figures, disproportionate to 14% of the working age population from a BAME background.

The Government’s own racial disparity audit finds racial inequality across a range of socioeconomic measures. Unemployment rates for Black, Asian and minority ethnic people almost twice that of white British adults. Over half of Asian and black households fall into the lowest two income quintiles and white British people are still most likely to be home owners. Black Caribbean pupils are permanently excluded from school at three times the rate of white British pupils, and Black British people are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people.


“In 15 or 20 years, on present trends, there will be in this country three and a half million Commonwealth immigrants and their descendants…. There is no comparable official figure for the year 2000, but it must be in the region of five to seven million, approximately one-tenth of the whole population, and approaching that of Greater London. Of course, it will not be evenly distributed from Margate to Aberystwyth and from Penzance to Aberdeen. Whole areas, towns and parts of towns across England will be occupied by sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population.”


Powell sought to use these numbers to claim an impending doom. The 1981 census estimated just over 2.2 million people for whom the head of the household was from the New Commonwealth, the migrants and their descendants Powell was most fearful of. It also records 1.3 million migrants from the rest of the world, including Old Commonwealth countries. The 2001 census records the population of all minority ethnic groups in the UK to be 4,635,296, around 8% of the population, and short of Powell’s estimations. The numbers were off, but more importantly the idea that immigration would tear Britain apart is so wrong that it undermines Powell’s central argument.


Powell looks to the U.S. as an example of Britain’s future, and predicts consequences of changes to the 1965 Race Relations Act which made it illegal to refuse housing, employment or public services to people because of their ethnic background, and created the Community Relations Commission (CRC) to promote ‘harmonious community relations’.

“They found their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition, their plans and prospects for the future defeated; at work they found that employers hesitated to apply to the immigrant worker the standards of discipline and competence required of the native-born worker; they began to hear, as time went by, more and more voices which told them that they were now the unwanted.”


Concerns around pressures placed on housing, public services and the NHS, and about wage suppression and the undercutting of working conditions as a result of immigration remain incredibly salient. But how do these concerns stand up to evidence? 

Any population growth demands a greater supply public services and infrastructure, and immigration does add to population growth. But the reality is complex, as most migrants are also tax payers and contribute towards these services.

Healthcare is now a more salient public issue than immigration, the NHS is struggling to cope with record demand and social care services are stretched to the limit. The number of people waiting more than four hours for treatment in A&E has risen by nearly 600%. But there is no correlation between the proportion of immigrants in an area and the performance of local A&E departments. In 2014, FullFact estimated that migration from the EU added £160 million in additional costs for the NHS across the UK, while the Kings Trust estimate that ‘health tourism’ costs the UK between 60-80 million pounds a year. But this is less than 10% of the annual NHS budget of £113 billion, and does not account for migrants’ contribution through taxation, or the NHS surcharge paid by migrants from non-EU countries. Nor does it account for the importance of migrant labour in running the NHS. Further, immigrants are less likely than people born in the UK to access services, as they tend to be younger.

It’s also hard to determine the impact of immigration on school places. Between 2011-2011 fertility rates increased alongside immigration, as non-UK born women have a higher fertility rate than those born in the UK. More children means more school places, but creating school places requires public funding, which migrants add to. 2016 estimates from HMRC but the tax and national insurance contribution of EEA nationals at £3.11 billion. At the same time, education policies have been slow to react, and since 2001, Governments have cut back on empty school places in primary schools. Further, the introduction of free schools and academies means local authorities can’t build new schools without first seeking proposals for a free school and don’t have the authority to tell academies to expand.

Research suggests that immigration has a small impact on average wages of existing workers, but that this is contingent on skills of workers and the characteristics of local economies. Low-wage workers are most likely to be hit by any impact, but these impacts are also most likely to be felt by resident workers who are also migrants. Evidence on wages is complex, and highly determined by economic changes, and declines in the wages and employment of UK-born workers in the short run can be offset by rising wages and employment in the long run.


“Now we are seeing the growth of positive forces acting against integration, of vested interests in the preservation and sharpening of racial and religious differences, with a view to the exercise of actual domination, first over fellow-immigrants and then over the rest of the population.  As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”


Over 80% of people feel well integrated into their communities. Our research finds the majority of people have close friends of a different ethnic background to their own, and a quarter of Londoners have been in a relationship with someone of a different ethnicity to themselves, significant for any Western European country, and the vast majority of people (76%) see their community as peaceful and friendly.Race relations have not always been easy, but rhetoric like Powell’s only stirs up tensions, creates new challenges, and adds fuel to the fire. The vast majority of people will not have been as familiar as Powell with Greek mythology, and will more likely read an association of diversity with violence, of multiculturalism’s failure as social breakdown. Of course, this has not happened. But there is much to be done to improve both perceptions and realities of community relations in an increasingly diverse Britain.


1The Guardian, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/sep/24/revealed-britains-most-powerful-elite-is-97-white







8Ethnicity Facts and Figures, 2017, https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/

9Fear and HOPE 2017


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