Left Out Liberal

A left-wing/liberal look at the UK's General Election of 2005.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Immigration: The Truth Hurts

Last night's Question Time was probably the most interesting I've seen in a long time, even though that's not saying anything given that the standard of this programme is normally appallingly low. Robin Cook's outbreak of loyalty to the party was expected, but it still annoyed the hell out of me.

It was encouraging to see a lot of positive focus on the asylum and immigration issues given, however. Shirley Williams for the Lib Dems and the Green MEP on last night both talked very positively and sometimes very movingly on particular cases they had come across.

This is the problem with the immigration debate. To coin a phrase that the Tories have made in vogue at the moment, none of what I'm about to say on this issue is rocket science, and most people will have heard it before. But I feel that it's getting lost in the mass of the same speeches being made day in day out by the same old politicians.

We need immigration. Unfortunately, and I'm not quite sure where this has come from, but the average man on the street is quite keen to tell you how immigrants and asylum seekers come over here and "take our jobs" and "our benefits". Such responses are wrong on so many levels, and I am very curious to know from where these ideas were planted in the first place. No politicians ever say it: to do so would mean certain failure. So who has fed this one?

Why is it wrong? Simple:

Immigrants: i.e. economic migrants cannot claim any benefits whatsoever. Before they are allowed to move here, they have to prove that they already have a job waiting for them, or they have a skill the country is desperate for. Alternatively, they must show that they have many thousands of pounds in resources to tide them over until they can find one. The system will not support them.

Economic migrants do take jobs. But the jobs they take are either very high on the job ladder, or at the bottom. The economy needs doctors, nurses, teachers, directors, etc. But these aren't the jobs your Average Joe in the street would be able to fulfil. No harm done. In fact, these economic migrants pay taxes and get little in return. They boost the Treasury coffers to a large extent. An extremely big plus for the country.

But at the other end of the scale is the menial jobs they fill. British people can endlessly moan about them "taking our jobs" - but how many British people you know are now beginning to turn their noses up at jobs because they are beneath them? Someone has to clean toilets. Someone has to staff the bars that we prop up all day. Someone has to listen to you bark your order at the McDonalds Drive-Thru. It's small wonder we have to take immigrants in. There are plenty of jobs available for British people to take. If we filled them all, then there likely wouldn't be any economic migration for such lower-end jobs. So perhaps the "flood" of immigrants is actually your Average Joe's fault in the first place.

Asylum seekers: genuine asylum seekers cannot work. They do not have National Insurance numbers, and are not allowed to apply for them. Employers could only take them on with cash-in-hand - i.e. illegally. Worse is the fact that such asylum seekers will often be exploited ruthlessly, working for under the minimum wage and with no statutory employment protection. And why do some of them get so desperate that they want to work illegally? Why, could it have anything to do with the fact that a single adult receives just £37.77 a week, plus accomodation?

Illegal immigrants: those who are smuggled into the UK. Since they are not on any systems, they also cannot work legitimately and so work for unscrupulous employers in the same way as asylum seekers. Next time you quaff down an oyster, don't forget to say thanks to the illegal immigrant getting paid £1/hour for picking the finest Morecambe has to offer. They're desperate to get here... and willing to pay thousands of pounds in the process, and sometimes even risking their lives. And what do they gain out of it? They eke out a miserable existence under the threat of constant exploitation from their employers. There is something desperately wrong with the system if it is driving people to such measures, and it certainly isn't because the system is too "weak".

Let's face it. Like America, this country is beginning to run on immigrant labour. Instead of moaning, we should either be doing the jobs ourselves - which we don't seem to want to do any more - or in fact thank the hard work and enormous economic benefit put into this country by immigrants.

We need to acknowledge that. Only then can we have a real debate that understands exactly what the implications of toying with this issue are.

The politicians are playing with fire.


At 10:39 pm, April 22, 2005, Blogger Matt said...

Without 'immigrants' most of our key industry would collapse. Personally, I feel that with a more regulated media and more media scrutiny the problem would be less severe (although measures would still have to be taken to promote inclusiveness). But I suppose Murdoch wouldn't like that

At 4:53 pm, April 23, 2005, Anonymous robin said...

Well Im your Daily Mail reader,Im also a lorry driver.
Why do asylum seekers pass through several safe countries and cross the channel to get here?
Why do they stay here when their countries are made safe?
Why do some of them go back for a holiday to the very countries they are claiming persecute them?

Why dont I hear from the Left/Liberal commentators condemnation of the unfair fines inflicted on lorry drivers?


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