It’s good to talk

uploaded by BESTO (Giuseppe Stella).

I’m a fan of late night phone-in shows. But when it comes to phone-ins on immigration, the same myth always seems to crop up.

It relates to mobile phones. Those who perpetuate it are keen to suggest that migrants, particularly asylum seekers, are being given mobile phones, by some unspecified governmental body

The caller usually starts by complaining about the hand-outs given to immigrants. When asked by the host to substantiate the claim, they usually start waffling on about cars and mobile phones.

‘I can’t afford a mobile phone and asylum seekers get given a mobile phone for free,’ they complain (despite the fact you can pick up older models for a few quid. Which is probably what these migrants have done).

I can, however, accept that these whiners might not be able to afford phone credit. Presumably, they’d use it up on long calls complaining to anyone who’ll listen about their lot.

While these people are annoying and most probably wrong, they do raise an interesting question. How can migrants, and other poor people in the UK, afford to use mobile phones, given the price of call credit?

A report published last week suggests one very plausible answer – they go without everyday essentials. The research by the Young Foundation into the changing needs of modern Britain finds that for many people in this country, from teenagers to refugees, a mobile phone is more of a priority than a square meal.

A decade ago, mobile phones were seen as an essential only for yuppies and posers. This report suggests that now they are essential for a person’s wellbeing. It says many people live alone and that mobile phones are essential way of keeping in touch with friends and relatives who live too far away to visit regularly.

So there you go. The mobile phone is now considered an essential need. So what policies would help people to meet this need? Danny Dorling, a Geography Professor at the University of Sheffield, has a novel idea: free phone calls.

Under Professor Dorling’s proposal, which he tells me would be easier to implement if mobile operators were nationalised (well, it’s not impossible, in this economic climate, is it?), you’d still have to buy your handset, but domestic phone calls and text messages would cost nothing.

He says it’s all about coming up with the equivalent of a penny stamp, one of the essentials used by Seebohm Rowntree when setting the poverty line in the early 20th Century. ‘The key issue was they worked out then that there would be more to life than just surviving,’ says Professor Dorling.

But Professor Dorling admits that there is a downside to this innovation: ‘People who are currently paid to stop you at train stations and try and sign you up to mobile phone deals would be out of work.’

‘But you never know,’ he adds. ‘It might just be possible to imagine a society in which people are not paid to get you to switch networks.’

Amen to that!

N.B: I’ll be writing more about this research for January’s New Start.

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