Spring cleaning in Britain



A few weeks ago, in the article „The Neighbours”, I wrote about how British sentiment changed toward us-Poles. It seems that, unfortunately, the issue remains so current. A few months ago Facebook page fans of the rock band Iron Maiden started a war on band’s wall. Unluckily,Facebook conflict received wide coverage not only on the social networking site. When I was planning this article, I had no idea about the Polish-British war on Facebook. However, this takes a very modern form. Not swords, not machine guns, but on habits, words and documents.

Facebook exchange of views started when a Brit named Matthew Sherwood commented on the ticket sales for Iron Maiden concert in Poznan, Poland in the following way:

„Why bother with them when most of them are here in England pretending to be builder?? „

Briton did not have to wait long for an offensive response of infuriated Poles. Most of „likes” had been added to the response of Peter Wisniewski:

„We were in England in 1940 when you pretended to be soldiers.”

Almost 15.000 people liked the response what had shown how Poles feel about treating them as cheap labour for the EU.

„And one more thing-come to Cracow one day and you’ll see more drunk Englishmen than in London itself.”– Piotr Lobodzinski added. .

There is also such comment as:

„BTW British soldiers left the battlefield after 5 o’clock for some tea”

The anti-Pole campaign had started long time ago and it doesn’t seem m to fade at all. What is even more frustrating- the battle continues behind the closed doors of HM Offices. Some people feel like it is a racist battle. I spoke to many Poles before I wrote the article and most of them were complaining about ignorance of their cases, waiting for months for granting certain benefits like Child Benefit or Income Support, what under the EU law should be normal, quick procedure, our privilege after working hard for the UK, not a grace or a lottery award. Some institutions are stating some ridiculous reasons for not following the lawful procedure, explaining for example that „the documents must have been lost in the post” or „being e member of EU doesn’t mean, you have the same rights as British people”. Quite common is also asking people for repayment of lump sum as a result of benefits overpayment which occurred by human error.

Suddenly, after many years spent in the UK, many Poles are receiving letters with requests to submit some documents to prove that we have the right to stay in this country. In many cases, although we can use our eyes properly, it says that „you have not passed Habitual Residence Test to get certain benefits. By definition of government sites, however, shows that this particular test is being taken to confirm our settlement in the UK and the desire to stay in it. The criteria are the only interpretation of the officials who have a very different attitude to our nation. How can you not pass the test on the desire to settle, while living here already, raising children, who often even do not speak Polish, also working and paying taxes? How can you not count as a worthy citizen to live in the UK if you already treat Poland as a holiday destination only and it has never crossed your mind to come back there?

Today for example, I had to deal with one of the clerks in local Job Centre. Delightfull woman, sweet as honey. She called me „darling” what certainly is a huge difference after Polish clerk’s dryness and rudeness. I did not bring her coffee, or chocolate, and I was treated in true British, famous worldwide style. Although the document sent from „above” required me to submit the entire list of papers obtained in at least 7 years, she had chosen only a few of them. So I asked her why did I have to provide a tone of documents, she only explained: „we don’t have any more space in our form to put more information”. The list from Job Centre pointed to the whole curriculum, while for the application only 3 documents were needed. Hence she didn’t copy the rest of listed documents, only those that could be embedded in the table. I asked, therefore, if the rest is not needed? While Mrs. concluded that there is simply no more space. In view of the situation, I came to a reflection that treating Poles like immigrants from The Other Europe is so sudden that even the table of qualifying criteria haven’t been updated. The decision makers haven’t adjusted the table of content for builders from Eastern Europe to separate them from the better ones- originally born in the UK.

Ii is a pity when you thinking about those aircrafts, grandfathers and great-grandfathers who gave their lives for Britain for future generations, for us- Poles and Brits in order to maintain international friendship and support. We all should say: „we remember” and generously care about the friendship of our nations.

Meanwhile, some Brits in many cases suffer from short term memory syndrome. Most of them is sadly influenced by media propaganda which is trying to find black sheep- guilty of wrong politics, encouraging people to exercise the benefit system. The black sheep immigrant should pay for the years of failure, making people think that government will pay for their life choices and recover the funds of financially ailing country, simply ignoring the history. These two reasons are feeding the British public guerilla war Brits vs.Poles. Following the documentary series of „Benefit Street” somehow anti-Polish statements for public discussion cooled down and media are flooded by the discussions on the effectiveness of the social welfare system in Britain. It is no secret that the system formed quite a sizeable social group, which for years has no desire to work, gets the benefits, not being bothered to look for a job. They surviving comfortably every day, morning to evening, following well known by our parents rule from communism time: „doesn’t matter if you stand or lie down, your money is due.” These amounts are not staggering. Thus, sufficient for vile fish and chips, beans from Iceland, washed down with a cheap cider. This is the reality for many Britons because the streets such as Benefit Street are everywhere in the country , they are even entire towns here. Thus, the question naturally arose is how to encourage an entire generation of people on benefits to go to work, how to change their culture, a way of thinking of number of people who simply are not taught the value of work. They have never had the possibility of saving, forgot about dreams of a better reality and future. The realities sunk in the river of cheap alcohol in no way resemble the tale of the welfare state and high standard of living.

Many British citizens suffer from a disease centrifugally inoculated in the conscientious education process. Although this system deals perfectly with talent recognition, they can not take advantage of their gifts. Supporting children’s individual predisposition does not necessarily mean preparing to commercial behaviour in adulthood. Many of them have chosen an easy life, well known to them, instead of taking a challenge. I can not imagine the an average Briton, who goes for example to Poland and dropping by with his CV from one restaurant to another, from store to store, looking for a job. Even during the „Apprentice” programme, where the participants fight for the well-paid internship at one of the British oligarchs companies, filling more and more abstract tasks, creativity in not the strongest advantage of the candidates. But instead we can see helplessness, strife, digging holes in the competition. Just like in real life…Rather than follow the example of other nations, to learn their ways and thinking, it is easier to blame somebody else for their own failure.

It is not just about the proverbial builders of Polish, but also computer geeks and sellers from India, Philippine nurses, or Slavic customer service. Many nations has to offer the UK more than just their offspring, which will work on pensions or a small percentage of EU population, which lives on benefits. At least it is also invaluable knowledge and work culture, which simply lacks on the island. Once, as when I had the opportunity to work in Poland, we were all competing during working hours, no one had ever dreamed of paid overtime, and the fondest dream was actually permanent job contract. Faced with this situation, many of us have learned the lesson for work much more than required and not being paid for it, therefore it does not bother us today to work below qualifications. At least it is paid enough to afford decent life, including hobbies and holidays sometimes. What percentage of Polish society may have dreams of a fair wage for their hard work and vacation on the tropical island?

Despite the vilification and negative media voices, more Poles every day gain a lot of respect of their employers. Recently I have seen an advert about looking for some British people to be featured in TV programme about finding a job like a Pole. The idea is to use Polish knowledge and creativity, along with work ethic to change the way of thinking about work in British society. The idea seems to be adequate for the current social situation. I am filled with a desire to watch the results of this experiment. More and more Poles feel the injustice, absurdity of the decisions of some officials and most certainly we are not choosing to live on benefits. We don’t want to feel like an unwanted piece of clothing thrown out of the closet during spring cleaning from a lack of sympathy and purpose for this garment. I hope we have life long enough to be recycled now and again, live in harmony with our neighbours from all over the world and treated fairly like fellow human beings.