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Julian Brazier: Only reducing immigration to much lower levels than emigration can halt a social crisis

Brazier JulianJulian Brazier is MP for Canterbury.  His pamplet An Overcrowded Land was recently published by Conservative Way Forward.

Before the death of Margaret Thatcher – rightly – overtook the political landscape, the dominant domestic issue was the battle over benefits, especially Housing Benefit. Yet arguing whether or not the tax-payer should be subsidising spare bedrooms for tenants, in a time of austerity, is obscuring the real issue: we face by far the worst housing shortages since World War Two. These are reflected in continuing exceptionally high house prices, typically seven times income (against a multiple of three to four times in past generations). Furthermore, rents are so high that over half of local authorities in England have a median private rent for a two bedroom home that is higher than 35% of median take home pay.

The sad truth is that young people at all economic levels see little prospect of ever enjoying the standards of housing their parents do. This is a national tragedy and it stems largely from the open door immigration policy of the last Labour government. Under Labour, on paper, 2.2 million more people settled in this country than left it – but, in reality, with the end of embarkation controls, the figure was almost certainly much higher. In just five years, the Government Actuary’s Department has raised its population estimate for 2051 from 69 million to a staggering 79 million.

We are also facing a wide range of other social problems stemming from overpopulation: overcrowded hospitals, roads and trains, a shortage of school places and both water shortages and, conversely, flooding - since many recent houses were built on flood plains - as we continue to protect attractive uplands from development. England is Europe’s most overcrowded country and land is a zero-sum game; if incomers buy, or occupy, more land, existing citizens have less. Ironically, many of the solutions to overcrowding (new roads, railway lines, reservoirs, schools and airport runways) often compete with housing for precious land. They also place a crushing further burden on the public purse - and on the shoulders of families already crippled by housing costs.

The Coalition Government has worked hard to tackle immigration, and net inflow has dropped by a third but, unfortunately, targeting net migration figures misses the point; pensioners retiring to Malaga or Sydney do not balance young couples coming in – especially if they arrive from countries with high birth rates. Furthermore, from the early nineteenth century until the 1960s, there was a consensus that promoting emigration was a key way of relieving poverty. Instead, over the past decade we have had an unprecedented inflow.

Many studies have suggested that immigrants pay more in tax than they receive in benefit. But, under Labour, two thirds of incomers were from outside Europe, with three of the five highest countries of origin, Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh, being countries whose existing settled communities have much higher unemployment rates than the UK average. Indeed, average unemployment rates among 16-24s born outside this country are significantly higher than they are for those born here.

We need radical new measures to prevent a housing crisis and unacceptable infrastructure overload. Reform must start with a shake up in the legal system. Some 60 million people visit this country legitimately each year, but human rights legislation makes it cumbersome, expensive and frequently impractical to deport the growing numbers who have overstayed ordinary visas.

In a recent bold speech, the Prime Minister floated the excellent idea of requiring immigration appeals to be mounted only after deportation. For obvious reasons, however, asylum claimants would have to be exempted. That means that, in practice, faced with being removed, the majority of individuals would seek to go down the asylum route to avoid deportation. So this proposal could only be practicable if we revive the idea of overseas processing centres for asylum seekers.

Students form the largest element of incomers, making up three fifths of all non-EU long-term arrivals last year. Overseas students are important for the business model of our universities. Welcoming such students also helps to build Britain’s image in – and links with – such countries. But, under current arrangements, they are free to stay after their courses finish, if they have secured employment. While many make a great contribution, it seems extraordinary that they are free to compete for scarce jobs with Britain’s many unemployed graduates and – being mostly young – they are likely to add to our runaway population growth in the future. We need two measures on students.

First, for admissions, the visa system should make a much sharper differentiation by nationality, offering a faster system to those from countries with a good record for adhering to visa requirements, such as many Far Eastern countries and the Gulf States. In contrast, there should be a much-enhanced scrutiny of the rest. Second, we need to introduce a follow up visa system for graduates, available only to those with scarce skills.

Only a profound effort to reduce immigration to much lower levels than emigration can prevent a burgeoning social crisis.


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