On Friday 13th January I wrote an article for The New European in defence of immigration and free movement.
Our problems are not caused by immigrants. There is an increasing sense of blame and scapegoating of recent arrivals to our shores for our nation’s problems.
The inconvenient truth is that we have serious and structural problems for which we ourselves must take responsibility: among them, the loss of manufacturing since the 1980's and the total failure on the part of successive governments to come up with a proper industrial strategy to replace these breadwinner jobs; a skills crisis that is holding back our economy and means that our people don’t have the skills they need for the modern labour market and a focus on university education as the only route to success that leaves all those who aren’t lucky enough to attend Russell Group struggling.
We have an hourglass economy characterised by an ever-shrinking middle section and an ever-growing section of society who feel trapped in dead-end, unfulfilling and low-paid work in retail, hospitality or call centres. That is not Europe’s fault. That is not the fault of free movement or of migrants who come to this country to work. It is the fault of successive governments, both Conservative and Labour.
Preventing migrants from coming into our country will not help our economy, it will mortally wound it. The simple fact of the matter is that our economy can’t exist without immigration and people coming here to do jobs that people in this country either don’t want to do or don’t have the right required skills to do.
There are a lot of jobs – not least caring for the elderly or back-breaking work in agriculture – that our indigenous population has little if any desire to do, especially given the meagre wages on offer. Who will take the place of the 225,000 EU citizens working in health and social work and the 222,000 working in food services, picking fruit and vegetables on minimum wage?
We are in the midst of a skills crisis, and who is going to plug the gaps? Read the Treasury’s Productivity Plan, which states that our skills weaknesses “are of such long standing and such intractability that only the most radical action can address them”. Listen to the CBI, whose latest employer survey found that 69% of firms worry that they won’t be able to fill their vacancies due to a lack of people with the right skills.
Where will be find 350,000 people with the high level skills to work in the IT, finance and professional services sectors which drive our economy and contribute so much to our GDP and therefore our public services? Where will we find 500,000 people to work in manufacturing and construction – building the homes we need and the goods we export? Why are we blaming migrants who come here with skills, instead of the successive Governments who have failed to educate our own to compete?
Most of all, we must never pander to anti-immigrant sentiment. It is voracious – a race to the bottom that we can never win and a race that we should not want to win.