The Little Englanders at Ukip, Migration Watch and the like must have relished the recent headline: EU report reveals that parts of North-East England and Wales are poorer than parts of Poland. As must the UK fish farm owner who almost comically put up a sign at his lake warning “No Eastern Europeans”. Apparently they were taking all his carp (he carped). Yes, they must have been delighted. This would mean all those Poles returning back home, wouldn’t it?
But the truth is rarely so simple. The truth is that Poles in Poland are getting ever deeper into personal debt, and – STOP PRESS! – a study conducted in March reveals 1 in 2 Poles fears falling into poverty.
I can believe this. On my annual trips to Poland I notice things like… the cost of petrol. Petrol is slightly cheaper in Poland than UK. We’re talking 10-15% cheaper. But the average Polish wage is three times lower than that of the UK. How exactly does that work? How does anyone run a business, for example? With great difficulty, I suspect.
Now, of course, it’s not all quite so stark. Places do exist in Poland from where to buy cheaper goods, such as gieldas or “street fairs” where often low quality but functional merchandise is on sale. And Poles are famously resourceful at making the most of what they’ve got, and finding solutions. When I lived in Poland it always amazed me how so many Polish men knew how to fix a car – about the same number here as know how to call the breakdown services (to which I also plead guilty).
But, let’s face it, the standard of living in Poland remains lower than that of much of Western Europe. And with unemployment in Poland approaching a staggering 15% – well, sorry to disappoint you Mr Farage – but Poles and others from Eastern Europe will continue to arrive at these shores to exploit the opportunity differential. In so doing they’ll better themselves and, by the way, this country, whist repatriating some of their earnings. Those earnings, which will make a king’s ransom back in Poland, will help that country develop quicker. Until the day will come – I wouldn’t be surprised – when we spy a sign lurking somewhere in Poland: “No Western Europeans”.
Picture: The Jarrow Marchers, who walked from north-east England to London in 1936, in protest at unemployment and poverty in their region. Their efforts were rewarded with GBP 1 to get the train back home.
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