Saturday, 30 March 2013

Sorry Frank & Nick, stopping immigration won't end unemployment


Frank Field and Nicholas Soames - in a sort of unfunny political version of Laurel and Hardy - have told us that the way to end unemployment is to stop immigration. Or rather, as is often the case with these observations, they've left the ordinary bloke to draw that conclusion from what they say:

“[An] area that needs to be considered is whether EU members should have powers, during periods of high unemployment, to restrict the free movement of labour, at present guaranteed in EU law,” the MPs say. 

Note the essential conceit here. We joined a union - a common market - that allowed for free movement. It means British workers can ply their trade in Rome and Berlin and that we can retire to the warmth and comfort of a Costa del Sol apartment. It also means that Italians and Spaniards, Slovaks and Romanians can come here. That's the deal.

And it's a deal that we benefit from - as Ms Raccoon reminds us:

They clean the toilets at Stanstead airport. They queue for mini-buses in the grim early morning British weather for the chance to pull carrots out of the East Anglian soil. They stand for hours gutting bloody chickens in Herefordshire warehouses. They collect together in windswept sidings in Swindon, anxious to be one of the chosen few given the chance to throw the occasional bucket of water at a British Rail train. Some of them stand at traffic lights, keen to earn a few bob by scraping the dead flies off your windscreen. They swab the floor after the Billingsgate fishmarket has finished for the day.

And this is entirely the point. Back in the 1950s and 1960s when there was a real labour shortage, when we had very little unemployment, immigrants came to do the jobs we wouldn't take - textile mill night shifts, cleaning hospitals, driving buses. The sad truth is that, despite high levels of youth unemployment, immigrants still come here to do the jobs we won't take - hard jobs that don't pay that well but that need doing.

And why is this? The answer is there plainly before our very eyes - emblazoned across the front page:

The Work and Pensions Secretary said that, unlike other European nations, the “reality is that this country is not cutting welfare”. He added that “all those on benefits will still see cash increases in every year of this Parliament”. 

That's the reason. Those immigrants aren't coming for the benefits, they're coming for the work that people on benefits in Britain won't do. And if we turf out the fruit-pickers and chicken killers, send them back to Eastern Europe, what will happen? Will those jobs get filled? Will out young folk step up to do them? Why on earth should they when a slightly poorer life (but less strenuous and demanding) is possible on benefits. A life filled with people rushing round campaigning on your behalf - campaigning for some proud fool who does take a low wage job to pay taxes to keep others in benefits.

Unemployment is our problem. Immigrants don't cause it and don't cure it. Perhaps we should stop trying to blame them?



Ken said...

No, this is not true. The Pakistanis who were brought over as night shift textile workers were shipped in to keep the wages down. For instance the only way that Nelson mill owners could get people to work the night shift was to pay them £7.00 a week, so Smith and Nephew shipped Pakistanis in to work at £6.00

Secondly, the notion that we have to be in the EU to allow us to move around is tosh of the highest order. I lived in Mexico for twenty years, but I do not recall that country ever joining the EU.

Finally, who will do the dirty jobs when we are out of the EU? We will - once the pay rates have gone up to appropriate levels.

asquith (can't be arsed to log in) said...

I myself have been eating Polish food and drinking Zubrowka earlier. Not a bad one.

I once found myself working in a warehouse, and of the 8 people doing the literacy/numeracy test, 2 were Eastern Europeans of some form, 2 were Asian and the other 4 were white Britons. It was this group that supplied the two failures. You can infer whatever conclusion you like,

Obnoxio The Clown said...

Do you really think the "pay rates going up to appropriate levels" will lead to anything other than increases in the prices you pay for everything, Ken?

Oldsoul_NotQuite said...

I would not rush to the equally "common sense" conclusion that high benefit levels make working unappealing. The US which has much lower benefit levels still seems to have armies of illegal Mexicans doing terrible jobs. That said, the rest of the post is spot on.