Queen’s Speech immigration measures: objectionable and unworkable
The Queen’s Speech today announced details of the Government’s new Immigration Bill. The precise details of the bill remain sketchy, but details the Government has released so far include proposals to regulate migrants’ access to the NHS, increase fines against businesses using illegal labour, require private landlords to check tenants’ status, and prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driving licenses.
The economics behind this is utterly flawed. Migrants already contribute more in tax than they take in services as the Business for New Europe report released today notes, and EU migrants are proportionately less likely to claim benefits than the resident population.
But we know that the Government is not pursuing this line on migration due to economic demand. Instead they are making a cynical move to fend off accusations by the right of the Conservative Party that they had no credible response to UKIP. who captured so many votes last week with a stridently anti-migrant message.
Adopting policies that seek to play to people’s fears about certain groups in society rather than addressing real concerns about the lack of jobs and cuts to public services – as I blogged in March– is objectionable. The proposed Immigration Bill policies are also ineffective in their own terms. They will not reduce the number of migrants coming to the UK. Rather they will drive exploitation and ill health of everyone in the UK, migrant and non-migrant. Here’s why.
- Restricting migrants’ access to health care: it can be assumed this will involve the plans detailed by Jeremy Hunt in March to make EU and non-EU visitors (those without permanent residency status) pay to use the NHS
Charging EU migrants to use the NHS will do nothing to stop them using the service as it is the right of all EU citizens to be provided health care by other member states where they are temporarily resident. Just as the NHS pays for British people to use health services in other European countries every day.
Charging non-EU citizens for health-care may indeed discourage some migrants from using the service but it’s unlikely to stop the number of migrants coming to the country. It will just cause more health problems. If migrants do not seek medical help because of cost, infectious diseases will spreadand could become serious public health risks.
Meanwhile if heart conditions or cancers are not treated early on, they will end up being treated as much more costly emergency cases at A&E where no medical professional will ask to see someone’s passport before they check their pulse. It’s against the law as Harrison Carter from MedsinUK points out.
Routinely having to check the status of all patients would also cause a huge administrative burden on the NHS, meanwhile, stripping it of funds it barely has.
- Requiring landlords to check people’s status
If people have a job in this country, they will find accommodation – illegally if needs must – but everyone needs a place to sleep. These measures will simply encourage landlords to operate illegally to avoid the hassle of having to make additional checks on tenants. Landlords may then abuse their status as impromptu border police officer to call into question a tenant’s status when they step out of line. Meanwhile conscientious landlords (who are unlikely to be causing problems in the first place) will be left with complicated new duties to comply with – this from the Government which opposes regulatory burdens…
- Increasing fines against businesses using illegal labour
There is a confusion here between the person and the practice being illegal. Many of the people working illegally in the UK actually have a legal right to be here: for example, Romanians and Bulgarians can come to the UK as self-employed workers, but not as employees. Unscrupulous employers can simply change the employment status of such people, which has no impact on migration but could result in lower taxes and worse wages.
Illegal employment practice should really be the focus, with resources put towards pursuing employers who fail to pay the minimum wage or who deduct housing costs from their pay, as Yvette Cooper has argued today. Labour market exploitation does not just affect migrant workers, however. There is a need for more decent jobs that pay the Living Wage for all workers.
Decent services are also a right for everyone that has been cruelly denied to an increasing number of people due to government austerity.
The TUC has consistently argued that giving employers the job of the border police will allow bad employers to hold the threat of deportation over those working illegally, while presenting good employers with a reason not to employ people. And, yes, it will create more extra administrative burdens on business.
Rather than clamp down on migrants’ access to housing and health, we should increase investment in services and decent jobs so all workers are supported to play a productive part in the economy and society.