Local Labour activist Darren Macey gives his opinion on the migration argument for Brexit.
The polls are getting tight now with several suggesting that Brexit has edged ahead, primarily since the argument has shifted to so called “uncontrolled immigration” and the perceived impact this has on communities. I want to present an argument, not in favour of free movement, but against the assertion that cutting our ties with Europe will end pressures on school places, GP appointments and housing.
The key issue at stake is “why are people choosing to come from other EU countries to work in the UK?” And there is a simple answer to this fairly complex question, they are primarily coming because the opportunities for work are better here in the UK compared to their own countries…at the moment…remember it was not long ago that things were different and British builders were working on the continent to make ends meet.
The fact Is that our slowly recovering economy is generating jobs, our small businesses are hiring, and those jobs need to be filled by someone. As of May 2016 there were around 2 million EU workers in British Jobs, as compared to 28 million British workers, around 7% of the total workforce. These are figures cited by leading Brexit campaigner Iain Duncan Smith and represent a proportional increase in EU workers over the last 3 years, but crucially, more British workers are in work than three years ago, in fact 28 million is near record levels for employment! UK unemployment has fallen, standing at around 1.7 million, and at this point you may notice something, if all the EU workers were sent back home, the UK could have full employment, and an Australian style points system would allow us to let in enough workers to fill the remaining 300 thousandish jobs.
But think for a moment what this is arguing for. It is an argument for the 1.7 million unemployed people in the UK to become a transient population, moving and resettling in the parts of the country where the jobs are available, those 2 million jobs are not spread evenly through the country, so British people will be expected to up sticks and move away from their friends, their family, their whole support network. This has two obvious immediate effects. Firstly, the communities they leave are left barren, with fewer consumers in the area, local small businesses will struggle and go under as they have too few people to sell to, reducing tax revenues for the exchequer, forcing more people to either claim out of work benefits or move out of the community they live in and beginning a cycle of decline. The second effect is the part that puts the lie to claims that Brexit solves the pressure on communities and public services. The jobs are now filled not by foreign workers, but by British born workers who have moved into the area…in the same quantity…living in the houses that were vacated by EU nationals, sending their children to the local schools, booking doctors’ appointments and so on. The pressures on communities is the same, except that now towns that currently have high employment are left even more desolate as their working age population has been forced to move away. Perhaps this is countered by the fact that the pressures on public services also shrink in the empty communities left behind, and the doctors, nurses and teachers can move to where they are needed, but this only increases the pressure on housing stocks further in the areas they move to leading to inevitable increases in prices and rents, increasing demand for higher in work benefits.
So what’s the solution? If we Brexit, and we want to fill the jobs that are being created without forcing the British unemployed population to become mobile, we have to allow immigration to meet the demand, and thus Britain post Brexit looks almost identical to Britain currently…except we have to spend millions on administering our Australian points based immigration system in order to achieve it. To support communities under pressure due to job creation in local economies, the solution is to pass the benefits that the exchequer is getting from the economic growth that comes with it back to the communities generating wealth for the country, and not focusing the limited pool
of public money on extravagant London-centric projects like the Garden Bridge. It is the politics of austerity that is putting unheard of pressure on communities, not the EU, and if we do Brexit, David Cameron will have reaped what he has sown!
Now I am the first to admit that this is a simplistic argument to a problem more complex than I have presented it, but it is an infinitely more nuanced argument than that of the Brexit camp which claims leaving the EU solves the problems caused by the pressures of migration in one simple step. Brexit will not be Armageddon, but the law of unintended consequences suggests that even a small change to a complex system can have unpredictable consequences, I will be voting remain on 23rd June.