The immediate responses to Mr Cameron’s speech on immigration today seem to be concerned with his reference to new laws outlawing forced marriages, increasing the earnings limit for family settlement, and the call on people to report “suspected illegal migrants” to the UK Border Agency through the Crimestoppers phone line.
They’ll be more time to respond to what the prime minister is proposing in more detail over the new couple of days, but here are a couple of comments on the points that leap out at us.
Firstly, there is very little here that counts as new evidence or argumentation. The thrust of Cameron’s comments are that migration only makes sense if it is tightly controlled and only those who meet the high standards of the Home Office will be allowed into the country.
The prime minister is excited by the fact that the business sector is failing to take account of the quotas for Tier Two skilled workers allocated for the current year and he views this as evidence that the measures are not, as had been feared, proving damaging to the economy.
What he is less candid about is that in the context of the current car wreck which is the British economy it is very hard to know what proportion of the damage comes from the hammer blows of the financial crisis and how much from reduced access to the labour force skills which are needed to provide public services and growing businesses.
The test of the damage that might be being done by the Points-Based Scheme cap might have to be postponed until we have evidence of a return to economic growth, and there’s a good chance that we will have to wait some time for that. In the meantime we can be reasonably sure that problems are being created in some sectors, such as social care and ethnic restaurant businesses because their access to the workers they need are being choked off. This will be a theme we will have to return to again in the future.
On the measures being considered to counter forced marriage, we would say that a laudable objective is in danger of being damaged by a crass approach to the issue. We expect that others will the evidence on this in the coming days, and sites like Southall Black Sisters will no doubt be much visited during that time to see what measures the people who are truly expert on this issue are recommending. They will no doubt be setting the high standard we should expect government to abide by.
Another point that leaps out at us is the suggestion that an after tax income of £20,000 per annum could be regarded as too low to sponsor family members in the future, out of concern that it will lead to an increase in people dependent on public funds.
By my figures a post-tax income of £20k translates into pre-tax wages of £25k. There are 20 million workers in this country who earn less than this amount, compared to 17 who get more. Seems an awful lot of people who are going to have to learn with the brutal fact that their family lives constitute a burden on public funds.
Migrants of course, being more likely to be concentrated in the lower paid deciles of the wage economy, will be disproportionately affected by any such measure, and this effect can be expected to spill over into impacts on race and ethnicity. This is very worrying – the government should think again.
Finally, the idea that we should be prepared to shop people we suspect are ‘illegal immigrants’. Has it occurred to the prime minister that the average member of the public will have close to zero idea of what factors ought to trigger suspicion of what an ‘illegal’ actually might be? Hands up all those who think that this might turn into a charter for unpleasant busy-bodies in local communities, stirring up accusations and doing damage on the basis of backward ideas about ethnicity and immigration status…..
That’s it for now…. will be returning to all these issues and concerns many times in the future….