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IDS speaks out: No immigration control = no welfare reform

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2011-07-01 at 05.17.45 Uncontrolled immigration means out-of-control pressure on housing, schools, hospitals, transport, social services and neighbourhoods - and, after Labour gained power in 1997, control was abandoned.  That net immigration should therefore be reduced from its present hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands is so obvious as scarcely to need stating.  But Iain Duncan Smith will today give another reason: no immigration control = no welfare reform.  The Daily Mail splashes on a speech he will give today with a headline of rare praise for any Cabinet Minister: "Minister who dares to speak the truth" - though Quentin Letts today also praises Michael Gove as "the Cabinet's greatest success story".

This is appropriate.  The Work and Pensions Secretary and the Education Secretary are the Cabinet's two most radical would-be reformers.  Now that NHS change is set to go slow, the Government's radical credentials rest with them.  Duncan Smith has been worried for some time that he may not be able to follow where Gove is leading.  Private sector job creation is leading the way to recovery and growth.  But, as the Work and Pensions Secretary will point out, evidence suggests that half of new jobs in the past year have been taken by people from abroad.  This is repeating the pattern set under Labour, in which economic growth sucked in foreign labour.

Welfare reform is hard enough as it is.  The "iron triangle" of welfare reform is that it's impossible to reduce welfare spending, save money and have no losers.  Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling's Work Programme certainly can't work if our borders aren't controlled and firms don't give young British people what the former calls "a fair chance".  It would be easy to frame the debate within Government about immigration control as another row between Blue Ministers and Yellow B***ards - and simplistic.  Sure, Vince Cable has spent much of the last year fighting the Home Office.  But he is as much defending his department as his ideology: business tends to take a more relaxed view about immigration than workers.

David Willetts, in the same Department as Cable, has been known to take much the same view - as has Gove himself.  In principle, the Home Office and Duncan Smith tend to line up on the same side.  However, the Work and Pensions Secretary is concerned that this isn't so in practice, and that what purport to be high-skill workers coming into the UK are actually taking low-skill jobs - the ones can act as a ladder to  prosperity for Britain's millions of economically inactive people.  The Work and Pensions Secretary wouldn't be speaking out if he didn't believe it was absolutely necessary.

We're told that Andrew Cooper, Downing Street's head of strategy, is now evangelical about immigration control.  That the pledge to cut net immigration to the tens of thousands isn't in the Coalition Agreement (though it was in one of the documents that accompanied the Queen's Speech) says much about how charged the Government's internal disputes on the matter are.  Cooper and - more importantly - Cameron must weigh in.  If net immigration doesn't fall substantially pressure on public services will rise and he will be seen not to have kept a major Conservative commitment - with damaging electoral consequences.  But something even more important is at stake: a pathway out of poverty for millions of unemployed people.


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