Bullseye. Photo: Eran Sandler, Creative Commons
Government must target exploitation not net migration
Today’s ONS figures reveal that there had been an increase in net migration to 260,000 meaning the government’s pledge to cap annual net migration to under 100, 000 will not be kept by the General Election next year.
The TUC has consistently opposed this annual net cap on migration, partly, because it is an impossible policy – the government can’t control the number of British people leaving the country nor EU migrants entering, both figures that affect the net migration figures.
Importantly, we also oppose the cap because we reject the premise on which it was introduced in 2010 that the number can be correlated with economic, social and employment problems. At the time, Home Secretary Theresa May stated the annual cap was needed because:
‘…uncontrolled immigration is bad for our economy and it is bad for our society. It puts pressure on the public services that people rely on and creates unnecessary tension and discord.’
Imposing an arbitrary cap on the number of migrants won’t ease tensions on public services. European migrants, in fact, have provided £20 billion in extra revenue to the UK economy and taken fewer benefits than British people, as a recent UCL study showed. By contrast the government’s cuts to public services, including billions of cuts to staff and care in the NHS, are putting services under unprecedented strain.
Meanwhile, it is not the number of migrants but the number of employers paying poverty wages and employing staff on zero hours contracts that has caused increased insecurity for workers. This has been made worse by the fact that the government has starved of resources the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and HMRC – the bodies tasked to enforce rights at work and minimum wages.
A recent report showed prosecution of rogue gangmasters for crimes that included physical abuse and non-payment has fallen by 84% since the government took power. Finally, social tensions have been fuelled, not eased, by policies such as the annual cap on net migration which divide communities by suggesting migrants are the cause of problems. However, at the local level we find these arguments do not wash.
The TUC has been working with community groups in Corby, Southampton and Manchester on workplace concerns. When we discuss what would help local workers, it is not less migrants, but enforcement of the minimum wage, availability of stable contracts rather than agency work and skills training that is raised.
The loud debate about migration and numbers shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the fact that the government has failed to target these communities’ anxieties about jobs, services and wages.