From the TUC

Greek chickens coming home to roost. And Spanish, and Portuguese…

03 Dec 2013, by in International, Labour market

David Cameron’s announcement last week that he was getting tough (again!) with migrants’ benefits was obviously a smokescreen to deflect attention from the figures that came out a day later showing net immigration had increased. That wasn’t supposed to happen: the Government’s cap on immigration was designed to bring net immigration down to under 100,000 by the end of this Parliament, and it’s now pretty clear that it won’t happen.

My colleague Richard Exell and I have explored different aspects of this issue on Touchstone and Stronger Unions, but I was really interested to see what Jill Rutter had to say over at Left Foot Forward about the composition of the immigration numbers revealed by National Insurance Number (NINO) registrations. These show that, while new Bulgarian and Romanian registrations are actually reducing (not that this necessarily predicts what will happen when transitional measures end next month), immigration from the southern European countries, especially Greece, Spain and Portugal, is increasing sharply.

Those countries’ economies have been hit even harder than ours by the austerity that the British Government has advocated here and, more importantly, in the rest of Europe. And it seems that the chickens are coming home to roost, as people begin fleeing the austerity-scarred Mediterranean for the limited job opportunities provided by our anaemic recovery. The Government is reaping what it has sown.

Jill’s analysis of the data shows that the number of Bulgarians and Romanians arriving in the UK to work for the first time (which is when they would apply for a NINO) has declined over the last year, although she notes that this could be consistent with a considerable number of Bulgarians and Romanians already in possession of a NINO – having come over first before the global financial crisis hit – returning to the UK. She says:

“Over the last 12 months to September 2013 New National Insurance number registrations from Bulgarians and Romanians have fallen by 17 per cent and 22 per cent respectively. This suggests that the Bulgarians and Romanians who have arrived are return migrants, having come to the UK on a previous occasion (the peak year for Romanian National Insurance number registrations was 2006/07).”

But the most interesting figures she cites are of the number of new NINO registrations from Spain (up 50%), Greece (up 44%), Portugal (up 43%) and Italy (up 35%). Significantly, the TUC has also been approached recently by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, worried that a generation of young Irish workers facing 30% youth unemployment will follow in the footsteps of earlier generations in migrating for work, something that Ireland thought had become history with the rise of the ‘Celtic tiger’ and the mass migration to Ireland that followed.

No one should be surprised that, faced with such high levels of unemployment, workers from these countries should consider a future elsewhere, especially younger workers. I spoke with a senior civil servant a couple of years ago who told me that no one he knew expected countries such as Greece to remain stable under the repeated austerity measures being forced on them by the Troika and enthusiastically supported by politicians such as David Cameron and George Osborne who were applying the same medicine to their own country.

But now the fruits of that strategy are becoming clear: increasing numbers of people from austerity-ravaged southern Europe are coming here to get what jobs they can. And the austerity-fetishists in Downing Street and the wilder reaches of the Conservative right don’t like it a bit.

Putting up the shutters (or even worse, pretending to) is not the right response, because it doesn’t address the root cause, which is joblessness. The European Trade Union Confederation, whose Executive Committee met in Brussels today to condemn UK government attacks on free movement of labour, is instead advocating a massive sustainable investment programme to create 11 million decent jobs, especially in the countries where unemployment has grown so alarmingly.