Four myths Ed Miliband used to scapegoat migrants
This is a guest post from Justin Baidoo. He can and should be followed on twitter @justinthelibsoc.
Ed Miliband’s speech on integration was a more nuanced and positive take on immigration than Theresa May’s speech earlier in that week. He had many warm words about identifying with migrants and celebrating Britain’s diversity in typical New Labour fashion. You could see why many Labour policy wonk-types were pleased with it, there was some positive stuff, like offering more English language training for new workers and cracking down on slum-lords. However these were small mercies in a discourse that is framed against the freedom of movement. While it was dressed in less hostile language, the focus of debate still has the migrant as a source of significant social and economic ills.
Most people won’t read or hear Ed Miliband’s speech, but they’ll see the headlines and could surmise that immigrants, if left to their own devices, will eventually ruin Britain. This was deliberate, Labour press officers spun the main message to be that immigrants have to learn English, New Labour was “too soft” on immigration and as a result, segregation has become a serious threat to Britain. Thus Daily Mail readers can be reassured that One Nation Labour will empathise with their xenophobia rather than challenge it.
So while the Labour leader rightly addressed exploitative practices by employers and recruitment companies, he also highlighted four key issues that he believed mass immigration posed, to his vision of One Nation Britain:
1. The indigenous community have well founded anxieties about immigration due to its real negative economic impacts
2. Public service delivery such as healthcare and elderly care, have been hampered due to poor quality of English by foreign workers
3. Communities have become increasingly segregated because migrants will not or cannot integrate
4. One Nation Labour should not repeat the “mistakes” of New Labour on Eastern European migration and a cap may be sensible
These arguments, lauded by Dan Hodges as mature, nuanced, intelligent – and surprisingly right-wing are essentially wrong.
Issue one: This popular economic myth suggests that mass immigration has stunted wages, strained our public services and blocked job opportunities for British born workers. These claims have been intensely scrutinised by Migration Watch, the government’s own Migration Advisory Committee and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR). The evidence from all these sources shows that these claims are patently false. There is no serious case to answer and is acutely explained by Jonathan Portes here. In short, migrants proportionally use fewer public services and cost less and cost less than the UK born population, disproportionately pay more indirect taxes, and have a negligible effect on low paid workers. The recent Autumn Statement, according to the IFS, costs those on the lowest decile £3.34 per week in comparison to the maximum probable immigration cost of £0.30 per week.
Issue two: Many would argue that quality of care, rather than English proficiency is a key problem within social and health care services. Though there have been a few cases where the ability to speak English has been the key issue, it is a farcical to suggest banning workers based on their language capability will solve this. Already an estimated 150,000 migrant care workers are not even being paid the minimum wage! It is telling that Miliband would rather pontificate on a pensioner’s anecdote on migrant workers accents, than discuss the well-documented issue of care worker exploitation. These are poorly waged hard labour jobs, where a worker can typically be given 15 minutes to wash, dress and feed a person with Alzheimer’s disease. A public discussion is needed on the great and corrosive pressures of the profit motive and bureaucratic drives for efficiency that are heavily placed on nurses and care workers irrespective of if they are British-born or foreign-born. This is the true crisis in patient care rather than grasp of English by the foreign worker.
Issue three: Danny Dorling has wonderfully destroyed this argument. Basically, we are mixing ethnically more than ever. The real segregation is due to economic inequality not language proficiency. There may be an issue, albeit a relatively small one, so why is it addressed solely as the fault of the migrant and portray the settled white communities as helpless victims of segregation? Why don’t we discuss segregation that is caused by fear of the foreigner? The phenomenon, known as “white flight”, shows that white communities actively move away from their new migrant neighbours rather than migrants purposefully creating single ethnic ghettoes out of a desire to exclude themselves. Of course, Ed wouldn’t mention this as telling the truth wouldn’t get him The Sun reader vote.
Issue four: Eastern Europeans helped not hindered Britain, perhaps due to their skin tone and Catholicism no-one suggests that Polish culture is detrimental to Britain. Economically speaking, EasternEastern European migration was good for Britain. During the 2010 general election debates, Gordon Brown opposed the much disputed migrant cap, on the principle that enough migration measures had been made by Labour. Ed Miliband now will consider keeping the mechanism only “if it works”. His aim here is craven positioning in the migration debate; constructing himself as the honest and sensible saviour who will end the racial and cultural segregation that is fragmenting Britain before our very own tear-filled eyes. But this isn’t a debate, this is the acceptance of right-wing propaganda. Instead of the old concrete trope of “they are stealing your jobs and your houses”, it is the now ephemeral affect “they are separating themselves and making you feel alien in your own country”.This is progress from Gordon Brown’s use of the BNP slogan, “British Jobs for British Workers”, so while the BNP can’t endorse this nuanced argument, UKIP happily could.
Britain doesn’t have an immigration problem, it has a problem accepting migrants as human beings. When immigration is publicly debated, it is assumed that the freedom of movement for people is inherently dangerous, migrants are a menace who will destroy “British values” if our politicians are not vigilant. Conversely, the power of Capital to disrupt lives, destroy communities and decimate public services is ignored and unexamined. This is what One Nation Labour is offering and I think it can it fuck right off.