Monday, July 31, 2006

 

Immigration Policies Need to be Re-examined

Following my last post on being forced to reconsider hallowed leftwing assumptions on welfare, Jackie Ashley's piece on immigration today does something similar for this fraught policy area. My position, like many others I suspect, has tended to be determined by the views of those I regard as political opponents: Conservatives, National Front, BNP and so forth. As long as they poured out hate and called for things like repatriation, I knew where I stood, or at least, thought I did.

A few years back Peter Mandelson suggested Labour take a closer look at immigration; I rather thought he was arguing for more skilful finessing of existing policy. The person who really got me thinking was Frank Field, someone whom I've always respected as transparently honest; he argued immigration policy was 'unsustainable'. Ashley's article completes the process, for me, whereby the case for re-examination is convincingly made. Government estimates of migration from Eastern Europe was 26,000 in advance of the accession of 10 new states in 2004; the actual current figure given by the government is 400,000 and that does not include illegals. Britain is so popular with aspirant immigrants because our welfare rules provide support and our employment rules provide good access to work, even if most of it is low paid.

Ashley points out that an influx of young people, hungry for work, must be good news for an ageing society constantly losing emigrants to sunnier climes. Many anecdotal reports confirm East Europeans are often more available, more efficient and cheaper than our elusive indigenous craftsmen. Good news for the consumer and for service companies seeking cheap labour to do the work our workers no longer wish to do. Not too much to worry about, you might think but this would be far too complacent. Firstly such a huge influx, as Field warns, places a huge burden on welfare services while those immigrants who are black economy workers contribute little or nothing to the common weal. Secondly it tends to crowd out local people from things like housing lists. Not so much middle class people with no need of such services, but poorer people already living in rundown areas which tend to host the new arrivals.

Thirdly, a huge addition to the labour market, at its cheapest end, inexorably pushes down wages still further. For many British people immigrants from Eastern Europe are a bit like those holiday home buyers in rural areas who make things bad for locals who want to buy their own homes. Ashley suggests the topic should be aired at the Manchester conference before arrivals begin from Bulgaria and Romania, warning that 'unless the government starts a debate on this issue, other, darker forces will.'

Comments:
You seem to shy away from letting us know the conclusion you’d like the Manchester conference to reach. Lots of people fear immigrants, but there is very little evidence to support those fears.

On the contrary, studies showing that immigration is helping to drive growth – www.yorkshiretoday.co.uk/ViewArticle2.aspx?SectionID=56&ArticleID=1460173 – are common. If you’re worried about immigrants driving down pay and tolerating poor working conditions, increase the minimum wage and stop people opting out of the EU’s working time directive.
 
You're right, I do shy away from any conclusion as I'm not sure what it should/might be. But I have come to think British people have a legitimate complaint regarding incomers taking up, for example, housing allocations. I just hope that addressing the toipic will help throw up solutions compatible with Labour principles.
 
I am really surprised at the tone of your comment here. East European migration to the UK is a complex phenomenon, regulated by EU law, not solely by UK law. It may be that the UK has chosen to open its borders before other states, but come what may these are EU citizens entitled to something better than the second class treatment they appear to be getting in the UK, along with all the assumptions about them that it seem fine to make. See Steve's comments at http://bondbloke.blogspot.com/2006/07/whats-polish-and-what-isnt.html and http://beatroot.blogspot.com/2006/07/polish-uk-migration-backlash-gains.html for a flavour of what concerns me. It really concerns me that intra-EU mobility is being treated in the same way that other forms of international migration (although I have pretty much no time for most of that debate anyway) and I commend to you http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2006/07/ignoring_resear.html on the whole topic of immigration and wages.
 
Given that immigrants don’t only generate wealth, but also pay taxes it’s quite right that they get something back.

Placing demands on the NHS is an interesting one. The other side to that coin may be the demands the NHS places on the rest of the world; we import an awful lot of healthcare professionals.

You also hear stuff about housing quite a lot, so I thought I’d check Manchester City Council’s housing policy (I imagine similar policies are in effect elsewhere). As I suspected it, would be difficult for an immigrant to get on a priority list:
www.manchester.gov.uk/housing/strategy/rehousing/choice11.htm and I was quite surprised that there’s a fair amount of housing available on a first-come-first-served basis: www.manchesterhomefinder.org/h2choome.shtm (though I concede it probably doesn’t meet my expectations).

It’s not very difficult to debunk the myths surrounding these issues, is it?
 
Stephen
I'm not sure you really have here. I recall listening to people in Dagenham in a radio 4 report during the local elections when they complained housing places were taken up by immigrant families. Now they could have beenb exaggerating but they sounbded authentic to me. Clearly practice varies nationwide.
There is no doubt immigrants are crucial to our economy and have been so ever since the Windrush and probably before e.g. think of the astonishing contributions made to our culture and national life by Jewish refugees from the mid 19th century onwards. And of course immigrants should not be exploited and should receive proper rates for the jobs. My point is that the numbers have been underestimated and various problems will emerge as a result.
 
Bondwoman
I'm sorry you are surprised by my 'tone', but I'm merely reporting a leaked governmeht report and a major article in a leading newspaper. I am concerned that our immigration policy appears to be based on miscalculations as to how many people are entering the country as a result of its terms.
 
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Well for starters, I am surprised because as a well informed political commentator I would have thought that you would have known the difference between 'migration' in the 'pure' context of globalisation, and mobility between EU Member States. Those Poles are EU citizens you know, and deserve to be treated as such. Anyway, why rely on anecdotal reports, when there is so much evidence about the effects of migration on wages. Not all of it is unequivocal, but at least it is evidence, not anecdoate.
 
Plus, sorry, you should be very careful with those "claims" about housing/welfare, etc. and "local people": http://politics.guardian.co.uk/farright/story/0,,1815778,00.html
 
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