Waking up this Monday morning, what weighed heaviest on your mind?
Perhaps you joined the ritual 8am telephone rush to try to secure an appointment with your increasingly hard-to-see GP.
Maybe you’re in the process of remortgaging, fretting about how to absorb a huge hike in monthly repayments driven by soaring interest rates.
You might be struggling with the bills, or stressing about how to put food on the table as prices in the supermarket climb even higher on the back of rampant inflation.
SCROLL DOWN FOR THE VIEWS OF KENT RESIDENTS
I’ll wager, however, that – even if you live on the supposed ‘frontline’ here in Kent – the spectre of people crossing the Channel in small boats is not the greatest concern facing you and your family in the week ahead.
The polling bears this out. In the latest round of its snappily-titled Issues Concerning Britons Issues Index, polling firm Ipsos found immigration to be a concern of fewer than one in five respondents.
And yet, and yet. Here comes Rishi Sunak to Dover to once again set out his listless administration’s commitment to stopping the small boat crossings. What we are all supposed to take away is the fact the Prime Minister is listening, hearing our concerns, and taking action.
But how concerned are you, really, when you’re skint, your housing costs are crippling, and the chances of getting that nagging toothache seen to by an NHS dentist are slim, going on nonexistent?
Living here on the Kent coast, you’d imagine we’d be among the most worried by the small boat crossings. But in truth I can’t think of anyone I know locally who would raise the subject as a top concern they are desperate for the government to prioritise.
Instead, it’s on social media where it appears the majority of the frothing indignation is whipped up, accounts professing their patriotism spouting nonsense about an ‘invasion’ and hordes of ‘fighting age men’ washing up on the shores of Albion.
I often wonder how many of the faceless keyboard warriors behind these posts have been to Kent recently, because I have never witnessed a small boat landing. If this is meant to be an invasion, it’s not an especially terrifying one.
The truth is the number of people arriving in this country via this route is still, despite all the overblown rhetoric, vanishingly small in the overall picture of migration to and from these islands.
The Office for National Statistics estimates that in 2022, 1.2 million people migrated to the UK. Of these, just 3.75% came by small boats.
You can debate whether the net migration figure of 606,000 in 2022 is acceptable – but don’t be fooled into thinking that a few thousand desperate people risking their lives to make the perilous Channel crossing are the main issue here.
We can have a proper debate about the level of inward migration which is right for the nation – and how we should manage it – but small boats are ultimately a distraction.
That Ipsos Issues Index put immigration fourth on the list of concerns facing people in this country today. Above it were the state of the NHS, the health of the economy and the continuing scourge of inflation.
These are the most pressing issues which touch on the lives of everyone here in Kent, day in and day out. These are the issues which decide whether we are able to lead healthy, happy and fulfilled lives. These are the issues on which this government will ultimately be judged come the next election.
It’s time we heard less about small boats, and more about how the government intends to address the myriad, overlapping crises which are making life in this country increasingly difficult by the day.
What do you think?
Reporter Ruth Cassidy went out onto the streets of Canterbury this morning to see whether residents believe the small boats crisis should be one of the government’s top priorities…
Retired Mike Tolhurst, 75, says the issue is not one that impacts him directly.
“The crossings are indirectly affecting my life a little, but otherwise, no.
“I think the government is to an extent misguided with how they are going about it. Immigration is always a difficult one.
“It may well be the case that there are other important issues the government ought to be addressing, and there’s obviously a general election coming along.
“As far as the other issues are concerned there are many that need to be focused on.”
Italian national Damiano, who asked only to be referred to by his first name, believes Rishi Sunak is using the small boats crisis to boost his re-election chances.
“I think he’s doing what anyone else in his position would do, which is try to garner as many votes as he possibly can on something that may be seen, rightly or wrongly, as a major issue,” he said.
“That is probably the strategy of most politicians; they try to distract the public and their attention when there are many other issues that the prime minister and government should address that are more important.
“Inflation and interest rates and other things need to be fixed. I believe they are trying to distract us with the issue of immigration. which in some ways is not important or vital.”
Retired hairdresser Kelly Connolly, 62, believes the knock-on effect of illegal crossings is impacting her life.
“The crossings are affecting me with doctors appointments and with travel,” she said.
“It’s just distressing really to think there are so many homeless people in Canterbury, living on the streets, and I saw this little clip over the weekend of them protesting outside a hotel because they weren’t happy with the hotel because it was too smelly and there were too many people in one room.
“That upset me a little bit because why couldn’t they have just said thank you?
“I’m not prejudiced, I’m just disappointed with the government. I just think that we are now overpopulated in this country.”
“I know that there are lots of other issues we are dealing with but I personally think that immigration affects the cost-of-living crisis, so you’ve got to sort out one before you sort the other...”
IT worker Jade Birch, 31, says the issue has little impact on her, but she is worried about the effect of a growing population on housing supply.
“To be honest with you, personally it doesn’t really affect me or my life,” she said.
“I work from home and I’ve got a place already. The only thing I can say is the housing worries me - I don’t know if we’ve got enough room.
“Obviously it would be nice if we did, and it would be bloody lovely if we could say everyone can come, but I do think we are running out of room and resources.”
“I know that there are lots of other issues we are dealing with but I personally think that immigration affects the cost-of-living crisis, so you’ve got to sort out one before you sort the other.”
Student Jayati Saad, 19, added: “It doesn’t affect me really. I guess there has got to be some sort of monitoring on that front, so I’ve got mixed opinions I guess.
“I mean they probably are working on the cost-of-living thing, just behind closed doors, but they push for what people go for and immigration is always such a hot topic.”