These are people who are typically found entering office building late at night when no one is around, emptying waste bins, vacuum-cleaning floors, cleaning toilets and generally putting things in order. Other times they’ll be found in residential care homes around the country, changing sheets and bed pans, helping old people through an exercise routine and encouraging them to eat their meals.
Once in a while they’ll turn up in the kitchens of an Indian restaurant on your local high street, brazenly stacking dishes in a washer and rubbing down the grease splatters off working services. All of these activities are done for no other purpose than to earn the sort of minimal level wage which goes into paying rent and putting food on the table for their kids to eat.
Photo: Flickr – dooble dubz
When addressing British media phalanx on Thursday the prime minister set himself the task of demonstrating that he was the man up to the task of dealing with this criminal wave and restoring law and order to our broken society. He told of us of a new bill that will shortly be before Parliament, empowering the authorities to regard the wages earned from doing jobs of this sort as ‘proceeds of crime’ and granting polices officers the power to pocket – sorry, confiscate – whatever they find in the way of odd fivers and loose change on the persons apprehended in the act of working ‘without papers’.
Many of these people will be brown, and some completely black, but since all will be very foreign the rest of us aren’t supposed to care very much. Score one for Mr Cameron and his ‘zero tolerance’ approach.
No one truly knows how many of Britain’s immigrants are eking out a meagre existence for themselves in that bleak place which we have come to think of as ‘illegal’. The best educated guesses put the figure somewhere between 300,000 at the low end up to twice that level. But we do know a fair bit about the failings in the systems which purport to manage migration and asylum and bring them to the point where the business of drawing breathe looks increasingly like a criminal act.
The biggest tributary into the river of the undocumented is that of asylum-seekers whose cases have been lost beyond hope of ever being recovered in the labyrinthine corridors of the Home Office. Expected to live on £36.95 a week on the single adult rate, or £72.52 for a couple. With casual, cash-in-hand work available in abundance in most big cities, the temptation to lift yourself out of the depths of abject poverty is irresistible and a few extra pounds can be scrapped together to pay for a new shirt or a night with a friend at the cinema.
Students also are making their contribution to all the bad stuff that the new government wants to stamp out. Those at universities are able to work 20 hours a week but this can easily become the slippery slope to perdition if a bank transfer from parents abroad fails to arrive on time or an unexpected bill comes through the letter box. A bit of overtime as a shelf-stacker or security guard can be the means to immerse the culprit in the sort of illegality that will lead to wages being snatched by officials acting on the authority of the Home Office and student visas cancelled.
Sundry others make up the list of Mr Cameron’s new criminal classes. The dazed and confused who staggered out of the back of a lorry somewhere near to Northampton after making the hazardous journey up from Greece or southern Italy aren’t particularly numerous, but they are out there in small numbers in the shadow economy which sensible British citizens would do their very best to avoid. The victims of every harsh wind that ever blew across the planet, crossing spaces as wide as the Sahara or the steppes of central Asia, they make up a battered, lonely and surprisingly resilient crew, but hardly ever anyone’s real image of a genuine callous and conniving criminal type.
It is possible that the prime minister’s announcement that the people he chooses to call ‘illegals’ will be subject to sort of shake-downs for the petty cash they have on their persons was just a way of deflecting the unwelcome news that his previous government had failed so completely to miss its net migration targets that came later in the day with the Office of National Statistics demonstrating an increase to 318,000 in the numbers of people coming to stay in the UK as against those leaving.
But don’t bank on it. The creation of a crime of illegal working, as opposed to the long-standing lower level complaint in which the individual was merely in breach of immigration conditions, is a step into that new territory which is shifting and moulding each and everyone of us into the ideologically useful forms of being either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ types of worker-citizens. A psychodrama which shows the pain and suffering that the authorities can inflict on those on the wrong side of this divide is needed in order to underscore and keep to the forefront of our consciousness just what can happen to us if we fail to live according the standards set by a government which is so keen to represent the interests of the business classes. And the body of the abject immigrant, already displayed for us on so many occasions in all the wretched conditions of the hopeless and hapless, will be made available once again to bear witness to the determination of Mr Cameron and his ministers to, finally, his the immigration targets they set themselves way back in 2010.
But the whole point of psychodramas is that they have to be played out in the wide open, before the gaze of an audience which is expected to learn the lessons and adjust their behaviour accordingly. Perhaps the vision of battered and cheated migrant workers suffering one more indignity as they are effectively robbed of the last of their belongings will bring about a adjustment in the behaviour of the watching masses that our rulers least expect – a howl of outrage against such obvious injustice and a new resolve to get the forward march of labour back on the road again.