I am profoundly annoyed about the debate on migrant workers.
I’m well aware that migration can cause problems. I live in the area with the highest proportion of Eastern European workers in the UK – and I am well aware from reports from my wife (who is a GP) of the strain they are putting on services – if only because translation has a cost and everything takes three times longer. And I know that their failure to integrate causes local stress, although I always have to ask how much do any of us really integrate beyond a small circle of like minded people? So don’t call me naive. This stuff affects me and my family.
But I still get very angry when the BBC can headline its news (as it did last night) with a report that 50% of all new jobs in the UK in the last ten years have gone to migrants but at the same time the very politicians who are blowing this story up from the political Right are also repeating perpetually the advantages to the UK of having non-domiciled people here and that we must do nothing to make them go away.
This is blatantly discriminatory. What it says is if you can earn a lot, are white and can speak good English then you’re welcome even if the work you do is blatantly harmful (as much of what happens in private equity is, for example). If on the other hand you are seeking to earn the minimum wage, will work all hours God gives you and will do work that is essential and no one else wants to do then we don’t want you.
I don’t think I exaggerate. Not one bit.
And I don’t like it. I want and expect level playing fields for opportunity. And right now we have a system that is horribly biased to the rich. It shouldn’t be. Removing the domicile rule entirely would be a powerful and important sign that we intend to treat all-comers (quite literally) fairly and equally on their merits. It would be a sign of an open society.
And there should be another sign. That is that if any limits on migration are imposed then the case for coming to the UK has to be proven, not by the availability of skills, but by the need for the skills, which is quite different.
And wealth is not a skill. Nor is the ability to extract it from others a desirable skill. The ability to generate wealth is a skill. And as most of those who have come here who are now amongst those reviled for doing so have shown – they can generate wealth by doing the jobs that our economy needs.
So if anyone should stay – they should. In my opinion.
But we then need to ask the bigger question – which is why we have so abandoned our own commitment to relevant education that we need their skills at all. And that brings us back, at least in part, to tax.