In late 2016, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror episode NoseDive painted a dystopian future, where people can rate each other and these social media scores affect how you can live your life. Nosedive was aired in October 2016, just past the June Brexit vote. We had little idea of the years of turmoil ahead of us. If someone had asked us all in March 2015, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?” none of us would have predicted we would be stuck in our homes due to a global pandemic, glued to our phone screens and to social media, nosediving into our screens.
The experience of the lockdown has been very different for people depending on whether you have a job, what your job is, your finances, your nationality, your race and other factors. Very few people have been exempt from experiencing any turmoil and for some, this has been an intensely traumatic experience. Speak to a doctor or nurse who was worked in a Covid intensive care ward and they will tell you about experiencing something like a war zone, with the trauma of telling relatives about their loved ones or watching colleagues fight for their lives in an intensive care bed.
What has been clearly visible during this time is the roles people play in society, and how we value people. When this crisis hit, it was not the bankers, CEOs or management consultants we needed to keep society going. What we needed were doctors, nurses, supermarket workers, refuse collectors, bus drivers, delivery drivers, carers, hospital cleaners and a whole list of other, often under-valued roles. We clapped for them every Thursday for a while, with photos and posts shared about the nation ‘coming together’ as we clapped and cheered. Did we really come together though? As the weeks have passed, has anything really changed? Do we really value everyone we clapped for?
As the nation clapped every Thursday, a powerful video created by several migrant workers, ‘You Clap For Me Now’, reached more than 500,000 views on YouTube and Twitter. It ends with a message that We Will Remember. Just nine weeks later, the government passed the immigration bill by 351 votes to 252. Under these new laws, 66% of EU nationals working in the NHS would not be eligible for a visa. They would not score enough points. The new system will leave a huge black hole for care homes where 1 in 6 workers are foreign nationals. Ministers have been accused of betrayal over the NHS surcharge with many hospitals paying the charge for their staff. Many hospital trusts want the fees abolished as they value their employees and want them to stay. It has taken just a few weeks for the government to go from clapping people as heroes, to not scoring them with enough points to come to this country or to access free healthcare.
An International City?
The new system could have a profound effect here on the south coast. Brighton & Hove has a reputation of being an open, inclusive, international city. Often dubbed ‘London-by-the-Sea’, it’s a place where anything goes, where you can find every type of eclectic shop, restaurant and bar. In a population of 290,000, around 50,000 are migrants, who live mostly in the central areas of the city.
Looking at the most recent data, there are around 19,000 EU citizens in Brighton & Hove with an estimated 31,000 from other parts of the world. Anyone who has been to a hospital, surgery, café, bar or restaurant in Brighton, knows there are many international people working in those sectors and contributing to the city. Many of these EU and foreign nationals will be the very people affected by the new immigration bill.
Point to the future
As we emerge into a new economy, damaged from the financial impacts of the pandemic, what does the future hold for the international spirit of Brighton & Hove? It will always be a place people want to visit, easy to travel to, close to London, on the backpacker trail. The universities attract many international students. What is less clear is how the area will change with new immigration rules dictating who can and can’t come here. The signs aren’t good. The new system awards points for the wrong qualities, and the pandemic has shown that very clearly. As with many of Charlie Brooker’s satires, the world of Nosedive is coming soon.
Follow @SussexBylines on social media