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Some commentators are bound to see it as Labour leaping on another right-wing bandwagon, restricting access to the country for people who can bring much-needed skills to our shores (more on this in a moment).
But our membership of the EU means people from other member states must be allowed to move into the UK if they wish to do so. Until recently that was not a problem – where was all the fuss about the French and German immigrants in the 1970s? There wasn’t any – because the member states’ economies all functioned at a similar level. That changed when the eastern European states were allowed in; they were not functioning on the same level and this meant migrating to the more developed countries became an attractive option for the impoverished people of those lands.
That’s when people started to think UKIP had a point. Whether rightly or not, they saw eastern Europeans coming here, taking British jobs or sitting on benefits, and even sending some of the money they made back to boost their home country rather than ours.
What’s the solution?
For the Labour Party, leaving the EU is not an option. Membership of the Union brings benefits that are important to this country at this time (at least in the opinion of Labour planners – your mileage may vary). It would be unreasonable to forbid people from moving into the UK after being offered a job here by a UK based employer. That leaves governments with only one lever to pull – one that restricts payment of state benefits to immigrants.
Realistically, that is the only option available in the current circumstances. The sensible solution would have been for the EU to reject countries’ bids for membership until their economies had reached a par with the rest of the union – but that didn’t happen. Now that these countries are in, the sensible option would be for the EU to work on bringing their economies up to scratch, in order to make emigration pointless; poorer members of those societies would be no better-off elsewhere.
On the issue of immigrants bringing skills to our shores – this seems to include very basic manual-labour skills like catering and cleaning, and the criticism has been levelled at the British that they just don’t want to get their hands dirty any more. This seems justifiable. If UK-based employers can’t fill the bottom-level jobs with members of the local population, what are they supposed to do? The jobs have to be done.
It wasn’t always like that; back in the 1980s, school leavers (or students on long holidays) used to pick up pocket money by stacking shelves in supermarkets, working in care homes (which could be extremely unpleasant, depending on the habits of the residents), in fish and chip shops, cleaning offices, in pubs… Yr Obdt Srvt used to work nights at a printing company, getting newspapers ready for distribution.
There seems to have been a failure in education, in socialisation or in remuneration. Do young people not have the skills to take even these entry-level jobs? Are they no longer being told that it is good to get a grounding in the workplace by taking these jobs? Or do they simply not pay enough to motivate people who are relatively comfortable, living with Mummy and Daddy and claiming benefits? The answer to the last issue isn’t to reduce benefits because people who don’t have such comforts would be unfairly penalised; it is to make work pay in fact, instead of only on Tory slogans.
So Labour would increase the delay between arriving in England and receiving benefits from three months to two years; would stop immigrants sending child benefit and child tax credit payments back to their home countries; and would “curb in-work benefits paid to EU migrants”, according to the BBC.
Shadow Work and Pensions secretary Rachel Reeves was quoted as saying: “”Child benefit and child tax credit are for children who live in this country, and we would stop it being sent abroad.” Who could argue with that? In-work benefits are “not supposed to support people from day one in this country” and can encourage employers to undercut wages, she added. Again, anything that discourages employers from pushing wages down is to be applauded.
The plan to withhold benefits for a longer period is supported by a European Court of Justice ruling that recently allowed similar changes to German laws. It is recognised that there is an abuse problem that must be addressed.
Other parties have their own plans on immigration. UKIP’s are well-known, and David Cameron has tried time and again to find a Conservative-style solution – most of which seemed to hinge on pretending he had made changes when in fact he hadn’t.
It seems likely that Labour’s plan will be lumped among these by the general public – and certainly by commentators with vested interests – as a right-wing bid to restrict people’s freedoms.
That’s a shame, when one considers an aspect of the plan that is unique to Labour – a demand for an “EU Migration Impact Fund”, paid by the European Union from within its existing budget, to help regions where immigration has increased the population by paying for increased school places, medical staff or housing.
You won’t get that with the Tories or UKIP! Why? Because their policies rely on telling you that the EU never gives anything back to the UK. Does anybody remember the flooding at the end of 2013 and the beginning of this year? David Cameron had the right to request EU cash – from a fund specifically set up to help in exactly those circumstances – and he let the deadline pass for political reasons, passing the burden onto the British people instead.
Further information on the thinking behind Labour’s plan may be found in this LabourList article by Karen Buck.
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