Saturday, August 26, 2006
What the 600,000 figure hides
Weve known for what seems like aeons that there are, at the very least, well over half a million new migrants from the East European nations newly acceded to the EU, and not the ten or twenty thousand the Government told us it anticipated. A couple of months back an internal Home Office report was leaked putting the figure at 660,000. This is a Home Office figure, you understand.
What does it not include? For a start, the several tens of thousands of those who colluded with the Government in the bogus self-employed scheme -- under the European Community Association Agreement (ECAA). I helped to rubber stamp completely unchecked into the country this mass influx ahead of the Mayday 2004 EU accession when I worked at Managed Migration. I said when I blew the whistle that this was a bare-faced Government con to siphon off as many migrants as possible ahead of the accession day to make the flood appear smaller. This is one reason why the projections prior to May 2004 for the first years influx were originally just 5,000 a year in total.
After the resulting scandal and the resignation of the immigration minister, the Government was bounced into setting up a registration scheme for all these new entrants, but even though it came after some of the horses had already bolted, this stable door was mysteriously porous. The Home Office was loathe to admit that registration was in fact merely voluntary. So anyone could come here and either work on the black or for any employer not bothering with the red tape. Then we learned that it didnt include the self-employed. The overall figure also does not include dependents -- a BBC Newsnight survey found that 30% of Polish arrivals either already had their family with them or were planning to bring them. On top of all this is the number who do not work at all.
If the Home Office is admitting to 660,000, then conservatively a million cant be wide of the mark. A principal Polish rep for new arrivals to the UK was interviewed by the BBC and said that he reckoned there must be a million; many of whom, he said, were destitute. This is just Poles, not the total for those from the other six new EU countries. How many of these are claiming benefits the Government certainly doesnt know, because the DWP has no means of checking the immigration status of applicants for any benefit. The policy is simply to hope that new migrants dont find out about this. If they do, the Government is not going to challenge a claim because they know that if this is appealed then EU law will overrule, and the assurances we were given will be seen to be as empty as they are.
The ex bosses chief, Digby Jones, has been all over the media proclaiming how good all this is for the economy; and of course its good -- for firms. It is not good for people, nor for the taxpayer; certainly in the long run. Talk to an economist with expertise in migration and he will tell you that any policy of mass immigration of low or unskilled workers will push down the wages of those already low paid, if not force them out of work. Worse than this, every semi-skilled or skilled worker who arrives is one less chance for someone to try to get themselves into the labour market by training. Its great for firms who now dont have to pay for this -- and it helps to hide how bad is our education system. Its not so great for the poorly planned public sector, which is training highly skilled staff such as nurses for positions it has already filled by recruiting abroad. As Frank Field pointed out, not one of the newly trained medical staff in his constituency had found a job as a direct result.
What happened to the idea of reducing inequality? What happened to the high wage economy? With a population that is both ageing and reproducing less, we have the opportunity to follow the model of several countries on the continent. Instead we are repeating on a grander scale the mistakes of the recent past. The textile industry we once had in the North of England was in dire need of investment in high tech to compete internationally given higher domestic wages. Instead, we imported cheap labour from the countries of competing textile industries to displace the indigenous workforce who couldnt live on the low wages, and textile manufacture struggled on. This lasted only until the threshold for necessary investment was so high that when this became the only option the mill owners simply cut their losses and shut the whole industry down. The taxpayer now pays for two sets of unemployment: the original indigenous workers and their migrant replacements.
What happens now that the whole economy is to an extent run on similar lines? The next time the economy turns down, the taxpayer will pay for all those amongst the millions of legal and illegal migrants who become un- or under-employed. Together, with the additional huge costs of over-stretched infrastructure, that will have to be augmented or restructured, this means that immigration is now a major part of the reason for the ratcheting ever upwards of the proportion of everyones income taken as taxation. The consequence is a progressive disincentive to work for ever larger slices of what we used to call the working classes.
I also think that as so many of these jobs are consumption related i.e. waitressing, hospitality and shops, that if the struggling US economy goes into recession and it spreads here, most of them will disappear. What will happen to the number of people claiming benefits then?
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