I want to challenge the widespread rhetoric, pushed by Nigel Farage and Ukip in particular, that Polish and other Eastern European communities come to the UK simply to take advantage of the country’s generous benefits system.
On the contrary, it is clear that Polish entrepreneurs have seized the unique opportunities offered by the business environment in London to set up and grow companies that flourish, despite tough economic conditions over the past few years.
According to a Centre for Entrepreneurs study in 2014, of all the nationalities who have founded businesses in the UK, Poles come sixth in terms of total numbers (ahead of France, Italy, Australia and the Netherlands), with more than 21,000 individuals setting up nearly 22,000 companies in Britain and with another 65,000 registered as self-employed. This is a clear demonstration of the Polish work ethic and our commitment to this country.
I have lived in London my whole life and have seen first-hand the effect of Britain opening its labour market to Poles back in May 2004. Tens of thousands of entrepreneurs from Poland have founded firms and while most are very small, an increasing number are expanding and taking on new employees, thereby contributing to London’s economy, which is built on entrepreneurship and SMEs.
The scale of this boom in Polish businesses is evident across London. There are hundreds of Polish shops in the city, plus thousands of Polish-run construction companies, painting and decorating businesses, tax and legal consultancies, IT and media firms, and countless other companies operating across diverse business sectors.
These firms are run by people who are taking responsibility for their own livelihoods, rather than seeking work from an employer, and are busy creating new wealth for themselves and for the UK economy – a far cry from the benefit-scrounging stereotype bandied about so frequently and so unfairly.
I always say that Polish people are the perfect partners for London and the UK – we work hard, we pay our taxes, and we are passionate about our countries’ shared history. One of my pledges, should I be voted mayor, is to erect a monument to commemorate the heroic efforts of the 16 Polish squadrons which flew with the RAF during the Battle of Britain.
We fought together, and many historians argue that the Poles were the deciding force – the No 303 Polish Fighter Squadron was the highest scoring squadron in the Battle of Britain. I believe that my people’s contribution to the UK and the city of London is just as significant.