Earlier today David Cameron launched another broadside at prospective immigrants to the UK. His speech in a very clear sense gives voice to the growing concerns within the party over the rise of UKIP, and is meant to address reported voter concerns over levels of immigration, or perhaps more accurately over anxieties about immigrants draining the benefits system, leapfrogging local s into social housing, and deflating local wages.
Migrants are welcome it seems, so long as they come for the right reasons. As Cameron put it,
That they come here because they want to contribute to our country not because they are drawn by the attractiveness of our benefits system or by the opportunity to use our public services.
Recognising the commonly held view that migrants are attracted by pull factors the government is attempting to combat these factors. Accordingly, Cameron announced that there are three major pul factors in his sights:
But the reality is that you can’t control immigration if you have a welfare system that takes no account of who it is paying out to.
You can’t control immigration if you have a healthcare system that takes no account of the people using it.
And you can’t control immigration if you have a housing policy that doesn’t take account of how long people have lived and contributed to a local area.
Sadly, Cameron has failed to do his homework and the tough rhetoric is at odds with the evidence. This is nothing new, as I have previously commented, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, mades spurious accusations about migrants and jobs and wages. But to return to Cameron’s speech, even the normally Tory supporting Telegraph has highlighted how the facts fail to support his claims.
Cameron’s claim: New migrants should not expect to be given a home on arrival. And yet at present almost one in ten new social lettings go to foreign nationals.
The reality: “Overall, foreign nationals accounted for around 7.2 per cent of the 247,000 social homes in England in 2010/11. Non-Britons are 13 per cent of the population of England.” And as the DCLG recently confirmed, most foreign nationals are not entitled to social housing.
Cameron’s claims: Just like British citizens, there is no absolute right to unemployment benefit. The clue is in the title – Job Seekers Allowance is only available for those who are genuinely seeking a job. You will be subject to full conditionality and work search requirements and you will have to show you are genuinely seeking employment. If you fail that test, you will lose your benefit. And as a migrant, we’re only going to give you six months to be a jobseeker. After that benefits will be cut off unless you really can prove not just that you are genuinely seeking employment but also that you have a genuine chance of getting a job.
The reality: the limits Cameron refers to already exist, and have done since 2006. But more importantly, “of 5.76 million people claiming working-age benefits, some 371,000 were non-UK migrants, or 6.4 per cent. Of those around 100,000 claimants were from the EU.” Once again, foreign nationals on average are less likely to claim benefits and generally work hard and contribute to the economy by paying taxes.
Cameron’s claims: Our National Health Service is one of this country’s greatest assets. And it’s right that when people come here legitimately they should be able to use it. But we should be clear that what we have is a free National Health Service not a free International Health Service. So we’re going to get better at reciprocal charging. Or let me put that more simply. Wherever we can claim back the cost of NHS care, we will. If someone visiting the UK from another EEA country uses our NHS then it is right that they or their government pay for it.
The reality: Pretty unclear. The statistics advanced by No10 were contradicted by Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, who suggested that rather than £10-20 million, foreign nationals were costing the NHS around £200 million. These figures come from a report in 2003. Either way, claiming the money back is complicated and seemingly discourages the NHS from recording patients’ nationality. What is clear is that with a budget of over £95 billion, the NHS probably has more important priorities to deal with.
None of the above can disguise the anxieties the present major parties are experiencing in the wake of recent UKIP gains. In times of economic hardship the politics of immigration possesses a powerful resonance. Unsurprisingly, many people, encouraged by xenophobic right-wing tabloid headlines, are led to believe that those who are different are the root cause of the economic problems that fester among the disadvantaged alleyways of communities desperate for economic renewal.
Ed Miliband’s speech in mid Dec 2012 on immigration was a more rounded affair, targeting unscrupulous landlords, employers and recruitment agencies rather than migrants themselves, but reflected growing concerns about the party’s perceived past failings on immigration.
The vast majority of migrants to the UK add value to our culture, society and economy. It is about time the leaders of our political parties began to express this more clearly and combat an increasingly xenophobic and invidious rhetoric that is permeating British politics.