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Jonathan Djanogly MP: Immigration needs more than a quick-fix solution

JdJonathan Djanogly is Member of Parliament for Huntingdon.  Follow Jonathan on Twitter.

Without fanfare or boast, some parts of the UK are doing rather well.  The East of England for instance is one of the few regions which is a net contributor to rather than taker from the national economy.  In my constituency of Huntingdon, with an unemployment rate of around two percent, frankly, to be without a job is generally either a temporary state of affairs or a lifestyle decision.

Given that the employment pool is so sparse, my constituency’s employers would most likely think I had lost my marbles if I advocated the return of their Polish and Latvian workers.  That is their efficient, willing and hardworking staff, who in some cases form over eighty percent of their workforce.  Likewise, further north into the fens, farmers are concerned that their Romanian and Bulgarian crop pickers will disappear once those countries’ workers are given general access to our job markets in 2014.  Of course the assumption is that their places will be filled by Ukrainians and other non accession nationals – it being given that British youth would rather pick up benefits than crops.  Clearly, the short term imperative of business to fill positions, is at variance with the long term need to increase opportunities for young British people.

Many are now speculating why Labour allowed immigration to rise to 591,000 a year by 2010.  Some believe that it was a political manoeuvre to bolster the cities’ suburbs with, what they hoped would be, Labour voting immigrants.  However, I personally go for the economic view that, at a time of rapid growth, Labour were providing the work-force that their own policies were failing to deliver in the UK - moreover, a work-force that was cheap.  It is interesting to note that this was the first time in the post-war period that growth did not go hand in hand with significant wage inflation for the low paid.  Of course it should not have required an abundance of foresight to realise that the short term economic benefits of ramping immigration were in effect a bandage covering some very serious structural failings in our society and our economy.

The opening of the immigration gates by the last Labour administration has caused many deep societal problems.  This includes the unbalancing of the subtle and delicate intra-ethnic community relationships that form a key role in the life of our cities.  Perhaps, this is not an issue for relatively non diverse Huntingdon – but go 15 miles up the A1 to Peterborough, and you will see my point.

More fundamentally however, the reliance on cheap immigrant labour papered over the growing problem of young British people not wanting to work because we had a welfare system that allowed them not to work.  Furthermore, it concealed our having an education system that was failing adequately to prepare young people for the vocational work that business was demanding.

The situation was brought home to me when a leader of my local Bangladeshi community came to my constituency surgery recently to lobby on behalf of local Indian restaurants.  In effect he said that Indian restaurants are having problems recruiting staff, following the recent reduction in immigration.  Years ago, staff would enter the UK using work permits and, more recently, student visas.  But now that immigrant staff need to be paid high minimum salaries or  pay full university tuition fees,  this was not viable.  I suggested that he look to recruit amongst Bangladeshi communities in other parts of the country, where there is high unemployment.  He said that this didn’t work as second generation Bangladeshis were just as likely not to want to work as their non immigrant family counterparts.  Clearly, there is no getting away from the need to solve the long term issues.

The drive by the Coalition Government to reduce net immigration, to “tens rather than hundreds of thousands” is therefore admirable.  To this end we should recognise the significant achievements made, with net immigration falling by one third since the last General Election.  At the same time however there are questions being asked as to whether this fall will be sustainable when the economy returns to stronger growth.  Given the demands that I see from business in my own constituency I think this unlikely, unless we answer the underlying structural issues required to ensure that;  young people who can work do work and improving vocational training.

This is why I wholly agree with the Work and Pensions Secretary recently speaking out against the Archbishop’s criticism of Government’s proposals to cap out of work benefits.  It is also why I support the Government’s proposals to deny welfare to those young people who do not wish to “earn or learn”.  The moves towards improving vocational options within schools and significantly extending apprenticeship schemes are all part of a long term strategy that will provide our businesses with more locally sourced workers.

Of course, to reverse Labour’s massive structural damage will not happen overnight.  Cheap jibes leveled against immigration or the often significant immigrants’ contribution, can be both unfair to the workers and often counterproductive to the UK’s business interests; if not sometimes only motivated by base prejudice. On the other hand, the Government’s long term objectives and narrative need to be improved and explained, if people are to realise what is being attempted;  let alone if political credit is to be earned.

Long term issues apart, there are also more immediate issues to deal with.  Given the significant amount that is being done, both in terms of short-term reduction in numbers and long term restructuring, it may surprise many that polls seem to show that people do not feel that the Government are acting on immigration.  Could it be that this is indicative of presentational and credibility issues for the Government that go to much wider subjects than immigration?

Clearly, however, there is also some confusion, emanating from 10 Downing Street on short term immigration strategy.  On the one hand, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are talking tough on reducing immigration, but on the other hand the Business and Culture Secretaries and sometimes the Prime Minister talk about immigration in the context of opening our doors to foreign trade and putting out the red carpet to overtaxed foreigners.  I don’t think that these objectives are necessarily incompatible, if we can get across the concept of welcoming the right people; namely, those whom we want and who will contribute – rather than take.


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