Explaining why the new commonwealth immigration posed a problem for the British government in 1962

The 60’s was a volatile time for Britain, enjoying prosperity after the war as austerity measures were finally removed. After years of rationing lasting long after the war people enjoyed a new consumer economy as products were introduced on mass, produced cheaply and bought with growing pay. this new prosperity attracted not only rural families into the city but brought migrants from across the empire to relish in this golden age of consumerism.

Pressures on Housing, jobs and education in England from the growing numbers of immigrants from ‘new’ commonwealth nations; people from India and Pakistan, Caribbean islands as well as southern Africa took advantage of the ‘open door’ immigration policy after the 1948 nationality act . The 1962 New Commonwealth Immigration Act restricted the number of immigrants entering form the ex-colonies, by introducing a voucher scheme, to reduce the number of immigrants. Violent culture clashes often as the Notting Hill riots in 1958 placed huge pressure on the government to introduce immigration and racial acts.

The volume of immigrant’s pre 1955 were mainly selected by active recruitment for British railway, transport and health; employed as skilled labourers they became an inexhaustible supply of cheap labour and essential to the British economy. The deficit in work force, mainly due to the loss of men in WW2 and the increase in further education, by the late 50’s 36,000 immigrants a year were needed to fill the demand for low-skilled and low-paid work. This increase in population resulted in a black and Asian community of over 337,000 in 1961. The new of the Commonwealth Immigration Act created a steep increase in immigration, the families of those who already emigrated and new low-skilled labourer’s desperate for work, with more immigrants entering then in the previous five years with 66,000 from the Caribbean alone.

The increase (especially of families) put large pressure on housing. Settling mainly in major cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and London; often in small closed communities, the original residence sometimes met them with resentment. There are reports of White tenements being evicted to make room for new commonwealth immigrants who were prepared to pay higher rates. The shortage of housing had become one of the biggest issues in Britain, especially in large cities where large areas of the city were destroyed in the Blitz. The majority of housing in these areas had become slums – these were mainly areas of early Victorian development in industrial areas with tightly packed terrace housing without plumbing or electricity.

There became areas of unofficial ‘ghettos’ within urban areas as new immigrants stayed together. This often led to racial tension within cities.  One of the most violent demonstrations against the growing number of foreign ethnic groups was the 1958 Notting Hill riots. Tensions within this London suburb had been growing becoming an area known for high concentration drug users and sellers. The riot started as an argument over the relationship of a white girl and her black husband, this sparked a series of incidences resolution in the death of around 100. There were signs saying “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs” on several rental properties, open racism was acceptable and common. The government released a leaflet to all immigrants warning of this.

The culture clash also affected the educational system. Children from immigrant families rarely spoke English; systems had to be put in place within schools ensuring that they had the same quality of education. Many white parents saw this as a hindrance to their own children as teacher’s attention was divided between their education and the young immigrants (often not seeing them as British or with the same rights). This caused further racial tension and divide.

The pressure placed on the government to change their ‘open door’ policy came from 70% of the British population who saw the act necessary. The number of Immigrants entering the country were seen as a strain on the economy, especially as the skill level of the immigrants decreased and many found themselves without work.  Strikes and riots against the ethnic communities in urban areas showed the troubles and often racist nature of the locals. Unable to house and no longer needed to support the economy the number of immigrants had to be cut.  The start of Britain as a Multi-cultural country had begun but not everybody relished in the new found acceptance that brought the 70’s and the hippy movement.

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