Perhaps understandably, George Osborne said that he would not dignify Farage’s commitment to be “tough on Aids victims” with a response. Granted, Osborne is not a confrontational figure – he’s hardly the Noel Gallagher of Westminster – and, anyway, plenty of other politicians took the opportunity to tell the sweat-drenched UKIP leader that he should be ashamed of himself, so what’s the problem?
The issue is that by not engaging in debate with Farage when he says ugly things, we fail to spot when he attempts to deliberately deceive us. In last week’s debate, Farage distorted the figures. Let’s look at exactly what the Ukip leader said about the people he terms “health tourists”:
There are 7,000 diagnoses in this country every year for people who are HIV positive.
But 60% of them are not British nationals, you can come into Britain from anywhere in the world and get diagnosed with HIV and get the retro viral drugs that cost up to £25,000 per year per patient.”
Here Farage paints a picture of legions of dastardly HIV-positive foreigners logging onto to EasyJet and booking budget flights to Stansted, before holding out their greedy hands for 25K worth of the British taxpayers’ cash and probably stuffing their faces with our cod and chips, too.
The reality is much diffrent. According to the most recent figures available online, of the 62,540 who received HIV treatment in the UK in 2010, only 250 of them were short term residents. Of those only 180 actually received antiretroviral therapy. To put things in perspective then, only 0.28% of those who got the drugs Farage is so keen to keep for himself had lived in the UK for less than two years. The rest were UK nationals or people who had lived here for many years.
How Farage can call any of these people ‘tourists’ is beyond reproachable, but even financially, Farage’s tough on AIDs policy does not make sense. First consider the cost of testing every person on the border for every single disease that Farage deems a deal breaker, then perhaps treating a couple of hundred short term UK residents will not seem so bad.
Unfortunately, Farage’s unprecedented popularity means that we all need to dignify him with a response, especially when he bullies and scapegoats the least fortunate in our society.