Drastically curtailing migration to the UK is a superficial response to our rising population that ignores the economic issues, says Don Flynn writing for the Guardian.
The spectre of the UK’s population rising to 70 million by 2030 has been invited to haunt discussion about immigration policy by the irrepressible Sir Andrew Green. He, after all, has been banging on about this issue at least since the possibility was raised by the Office for National Statistics back in 2007.
The solution to the dilemma as proposed by Green’s fellow thinktankers at Migrationwatch UK and the Balanced Population Group is a drastic and immediate curtailment of migration to the UK to levels which other commentators, such as the Institute for Public Policy Research or the London business forum London First, thinks would jeopardise trading and manufacturing activity across large swathes of the economy. These objections seem unimportant to the advocates of stricter controls: the nature of the emergency is so great and a good deal of panic is fully justified.
The rest of us would be advised to be more cautious. We really need to acknowledge that the migrants who have arrived in the UK during this past decade and a half did not come uninvited, but rather in response to the demands of an economy which had developed a voracious appetite for low-paid, ultra-flexible labour. Retailing, food processing, hospitality, building maintenance, construction, care and domestic services, though providing jobs, sustained levels of economic activity throughout the 1990s and the noughties, which most of us took to be genuine prosperity. It was entirely predictable that any such sustained period of economic growth based on a credit-fuelled consumer demand for new goods and services delivered at low cost would turn into large-scale demand for migrant labour.
The complaint that this amounts to acquiescing to the business demand for a low-cost workforce is only partially accurate. The more significant truth is that the bosses themselves were responding to consumer demand for ever expanding ranges of goods and services, but at the modest cost that could be borne by their credit cards. The unrelenting cry for big and grander shops stacked high with shinier but cheaper goods was passed down through the supply chains until it landed on the laps of very vulnerable workers with little power to assert their own interests against those of capital.
Many of these people – though not all – are the workers we call migrants.
The presumption that we will continue to be served by a workforce that will feed and house us, and look after us when we are sick and old, is the real force that has ramped up migration from the tens to the hundreds of thousands during this recent past period. It is clearly generating some uncomfortable arithmetic for the groups gathered around Green, but it is a superficial and foolish response to say that the answer lies in simply cutting back on the numbers of immigrants.
The real “radical” policy needed in this area is one which will allow the UK and its fellow European societies to make the transition from the credit-fuelled bubble economy constructed in the 1980s to a new model in which growth is driven by low-carbon technologies and high-quality public services. In making this shift we could well find out that the poor, despised legions of migrant workers are our staunchest allies, rather than worst enemies.
Source: The Guardian