Sunday, 19 October 2014

The great immigration deception

Ah, what a joy. In Britain, we’re going to be talking an awful lot about immigration between now and the general election next May. 

It’s a measure of the triumph of the far right, notably UKIP, and its followers in the press (which sadly make up rather a large proportion of our fine media), that this should be the case. At a time when the economy is in the doldrums and living standards falling, nothing could be better than to have an easy scapegoat to hand. Hence we like to make immigrants the focus of concern and fear, rather than government or leaders of industry.

And yet the population of immigrants in the UK is 7.5 million, compared to 5.5 million UK citizens living abroad. The net effect, therefore, is to contribute only 2 million to the overall population, about one person in 30. When we talk gaily about reducing free movement, let’s remember that we’d be jeopardising the rights of the one in twelve of us who would prefer to live abroad, as well as of those who come to live in the UK from elsewhere.

Kevin Maguire gets it right in the Daily Mirror
A lot of the anger against immigrants is channeled into hatred of the EU. But as it happens two-thirds of new migrants to Britain come from outside the EU.

And why do they come? The vast majority keep essential sectors of the country running. It seems practically impossible to recruit enough Brits to pick our harvests and work our farms, so we use foreigners. Our catering industry depends on foreigners. But perhaps most striking of all, huge numbers of our healthcare staff are from abroad.

We need these people. Essential services would fail without them. And why do we need them so badly?

The Cameron government, in its sustained drive for austerity, has put significant effort into cutting costs in healthcare. The result, among other damage, is that we are training far too few nurses, even though far more apply to enter the profession than are accepted. The result is that we have to make up the shortfall from abroad.

Among the loudest to denounce immigration, as a flow of people “stealing British jobs”, are a great many of the working poor or the simply poor, who would be entirely dependent on the NHS if they ever fell sick And therefore wholly reliant on those foreign nurses we keep recruiting.

That’s perhaps the most obvious area where the very people who seem most attracted by UKIP would suffer if UKIP’s policies were ever adopted. But whether it’s in food distribution, in the building sector, in transport, in catering, removing immigrant labour would also create havoc in their lives.

And yet UKIP, and the Conservatives who are trying to steal their clothes, and even many voices in Labour who lack the courage to stand up to them, are all playing the anti-immigrant card.

Because the alternative, from their point of view, would be far worse. It would mean admitting that the economic difficulties we face are caused by austerity policies, such as the decision to train too few nurses.

It might also mean facing up to the most striking statistic of all. At a time when public sector workers are being told to make do with 1% increases in pay, or no increase at all, where the bulk of private sector workers are being offered increases that barely keep pace with inflation, if that, Chief Executives of major companies are taking annual raises in the region of 20%.

That’s the bitter truth that is being hidden behind the rhetoric about immigration. The real problem in our economies throughout the West today, isn’t the inflow of migrant workers. It’s the shameless, relentless increase in inequality.

It’s so much easier to blame someone with a different language or skin colour than to face that harsh fact.


Jo Pilling said...

Even more complex than you state, David.
Since the end of World War 2 our society has imported workers rather than pay UK workers better. Enoch Powell set up recruiting stations in the West Indies to bring nurses to the UK. London Transport recruited bus drivers.
We have two million unemployed people but they do not have the skills or the training. Also, they cannot afford to live in London and the SouthEast where all the boom is.

David Beeson said...

Well said, Jo. Anyone who claims to be taking up the cause of the poor by denouncing immigration is merely blowing smoke in their eyes: they should be tackling poverty here, rather than attacking people whose presence actually makes us all that much less poor.