History - Immigration

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What were the causes of immigration in the 50s?

Worker shortage in Britian due to a post-war economic boom. Not all of the available positions were filled by Birtish workers, espcially low skilled and low paid jobs.

In 1948 all people living in Commonwealth countries became British citizens. This meant that they were able to easily travel to Britain without a visa and would be able to settle if desired.

Recruitment campaigns were launched by a number of British firms. Available jobs would be advertised in the Commonwealth. London Transport sent representatives to search for staff.

Many immigrants had come to fight in Britain during WWII and then felt that the West Indian Islands were too small. Britain was seen as an opportunity to earn good wages so men came and sent money home to their families.

Some immigrants were given interest free loans from their government to cover the costs of travel. Employees of London Transport were supplied with hostels for them to stay in.

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What were the effects of immigration in the 50s?

There was some racial prejudice against te immigrants. This was mainly due to the colourof their skin but it was also sometimes based on their 'exotic' accents and music.

Many immigrants tried to find the cheapest places to live.Therefore some of the white population would move to other areas and tension started to arise.

Some trade unions ocmplained because immigrants were taking jobs from the British public as they were willing to be paid less.

Some young men would intimidate black men, accusing them of 'taking their women'.

Some politicians argued that immigrants were only coming to Britain so that they were able to claim welfare benefits.

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The Notting Hill Race Riots - Causes and Events


The riot was sparked by the attack of a wite woman with a black partner by a gang of Teddy Boys.

The riots in Notting Hill, London followed the fights that occurred between almost 1000 white and black youths on the 23rd of August 1958. A number of stabbings occurred.


Over two weeks that followed hundreds of white men would attack groups of black immigrants using chains, knives and petrol bombs.

They attacked immigrants and their houses whilst shouting racist chants.

Some white men were arrested but some black men were also arrested as they used weapons for self defence.

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The Notting Hill Race Riots - Consequences


Some resentment was fired at the police from immigrants as they claimed that they did not recognise the racial element enough.

4000 immigrants returned to the Carribean, this was 3% of the immigrant population. Caribbean governments also complained about racial prejudice and poor housing in Britain.

Immigrant groups became more organised and the Organisation for the Protection of Coloured People was set up to try and protect their living conditions.

People wanted the government to consider how many immigrants were entering Britain and also howto tackle racial discrimination.

The Notting Hill Carnival was set up in 1959 and it was founded to promote racial harmony.

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Government Policies regarding immigration

Government Policies were introduced in the hope that they would deal with racism and ease racial integration.

The Race Relations Act was introduced in 1965 by the Labour Home Secretary. It was then followed by the Race Relations Act in 1968.

The Race Relations Act meant that discrimination was no longer allowed in housing or employment. It also meant that the 'colour bar' was banneed in public places. As a result of this, landlords and employers could no longer use restrictions such as 'no coloureds' and 'Europeans only'.

Incitement to racial hatred was also banned.

However, the Race Relations Board could not use the act to bring up complaints about the police. Only 10% of complaints were actually upheld so many people saw complaining as a waste of their time.

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Multiracial Britain by the mid 1970s

By the mid 1970s, Asian and black communities had become very familiar and were an established feature of British society.

Where the riots and racism had taken place in 1958 in Notting Hill there was now a vibrant celebration.

The aim of the Notting Hill carnival was to unite the black and white communities because at the time race relations were at a very low point.

By the mid 1970s, there was more integration between immigrants and the people of the white community.

Second generation British-born children and immigratns were attending British schools and they began to adopt British culture.

However, some first generation immigrants felt that their children were losing their racial identity and traditions.

These issues were dealt with in an award winning comedy, East is East which was made in 1999.

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Dealing with the number of immigrants

Politicians did not want to upset the governments of the Commonwealth countries but they were also worried about the impacts that immigration might have on British society.

In 1959 the Conservative Party won the general election. At this time there was a lot of pressure o the government to do something about immigration.

The general public in Britain seemed to be opposed to the lack of controls on immigration.

There was a sudden increase in immigration in 1961 because many people feared that Britain was about to become stricter with immigration.

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Laws to control immigration

The Commonwealth Immigrants Act was introduced in 1962 which meant that immigrants wither had to have a job prearranged or they needed to have special skills that the British economy would benefit from. Employment Vouchers (EVs) were given out.

Some claimed that this act was racist but 3/4 of the British population agreed with the tighter controls. It encouraged more immigrants to stay permanently because they did not think that they would get back in. Many families went to join their relatives who were already in Britain.

It had become clea that non-white immigration was seen to be a problem by the British government.

The Commonwealth Immigrants Act that was introduced in 1968 was even stricter. As well as needing an EV immigrants would need to have a parent or grandparent who had been born in Britain.

The Immigration Act that was introduced in 1971 replaced EVs with 12 monthly work permits so that immigrants could only stay for a certain amount of time.

By the early 1970s Britain had virtually stoped all black and Asian primary immigration to Britain and now had some of the toughest immigration laws in the world.

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Political Opposition to immigration

From the late 1950s onwards immigration was a topic that was openly debated in national politics.

The National Front Party (NFP) was formed in 1967 and it opposed all immigration and any also any measures to improve race relations and multiculturalism. It had 20,000 members, most of whom were working class. The NFP won 16% of the vote in Birmingham in 1973. It was well known for raising tensions with noisy deomonstrations and marches. However, by the late 1970s the NFP was almost a non-existent organisation.

In 1968, Enoch Powell, a conservative MP, made a speech which famously highlighted the race issue. Powell felt that immigration was a direct threat to British national identity and warned that a violet future would occur if the number of immigrants continued to rise.

His speech: 'Rivers of Blood' argued for an end to non-white immigration and for the introduction of voluntary repatriation.

Powell was sacked the next day as it was thought his speech would increase racial tension.

75% of the British public agreed with hsi speech. He had a large amount of support from the working class. Marches were held in suppport of him and petitions were created against his sacking.

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The role of the media in changing attitudes

There was a gradual easing of racial tension in the mid 1970s because the media was trying to change people's attitudes. Film and TV made a large difference.

For example:

  • 'To sir with love' (1967) was about a black teacher accepting a ob in a prredominantly white school.
  • 'Love thy neighbour' (1972-1976) was about a white couple coming to terms witht eir black neighbours. There were contrasting views within the white couple.
  • 'Til death do us part' (1965-1975) was about a white, working class man who is mocked for his views.
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The role of the government in changing attitudes

Although there was not a cease in racial discrimination after the Race Relations Act in te 1960s it did mean that there was an official government statement on the values of British Society.

The Labour Home Secretary said that the acts should be a way of creating 'a society in which, although the government might contol who came in, once they were in, they should be treated equally'

Fro 1976 there were tougher laws which made racial discrimination illegal, gave tougher powers to prosecute by extending discrimination to include victimisation and it enabled closer supervision of the work of the police.

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