Wednesday, December 17, 2008
British jobs for British people?
Following a report that since 2001 all new jobs in England have been taken by immigrants while economic gloom continues, there are real fears that rising unemployment could lead to increased racial tension. Matthew George examines the evidence
With Barack Obama's victory in the American election signalling that the country has turned a corner towards racial harmony, the economic downturn could yet slow the pace of change. In the UK, many are concerned that fewer jobs and lower wages resulting from the credit crunch will stir racial tensions once again. The threat of civil disorder looms. Chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission Trevor Phillips claims the outcome of such public resentment has already been seen in Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands, with extremist political parties gaining influence. He says action is needed now to help disadvantaged white people. Stretched job markets and crowded multilingual classrooms are likely to become major campaign issues for groups such as the BNP at next year's EU and local elections."We need to make sure that as services shrink and jobs disappear, the burden is shared by all, not falling on the few," insists Phillips. "We have to recognise that in most parts of this country the disadvantaged won't be black or brown, they will be white – the name of the game today is to tackle inequality." On mothers trying to return to employment after providing care for their young children, Phillips observes that unsuccessful women might be "rejected for job after job in a slack labour market, yet see a clever young Latvian or Lithuanian with two degrees and three languages doing the job they would like to do – it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out how they will feel". These women, says Phillips, might also witness an overworked teacher in their child's nursery class confronted with 30 pupils speaking 15 different languages. "Who will she resent for not having the life she thinks she deserves?" he asks. He claims that for 40 years it has been "impolite" to speak frankly about immigration and says this head-in-the-sand approach is not sustainable. The tact needed for such a sensitive debate has not been aided by the recent comments from immigration minister Phil Woolas. The mood music from Woolas suggested that government planned to limit the UK's population at 70 million, although he denies the cap idea now. His view was said to contravene government policy as well as being impossible to achieve – millions of EU citizens could move to Britain immediately if they so wished. But Woolas, despite having reportedly angered Home Secretary Jacqui Smith with his headline-grabbing, is adamant that the Prime Minister has given him licence to speak out. He insists discussion on immigration "has been stifled for decades". And he freely admits that the UK has "screwed up" over immigration limits and failed to provide adequate resources for councils coping with an influx of new arrivals, causing "untold misery and division within our communities". "People didn't believe the authorities knew what they were doing and there's a very good reason for that – they didn't," he adds candidly. The newly introduced Australian- style points system will relieve some pressure, says Woolas, although he admits it will mean ministers only control the trend, not the specific numbers. Meanwhile, shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve accepts that the new system is "a step in the right direction" but insists it is pointless without an upper limit on the total population. "While we cannot restrict inward EU migration, this would allow us to control migration from outside the EU which is around two-thirds of the foreign nationals arriving in the UK each year," says Grieve. Office for National Statistics figures predict the UK population will reach 71 million by 2031. Eurostat has even forecast that the UK population will top 77 million in 2060, making it the most heavily populated EU member state – ahead of Germany and France. Under the new points system, 192 occupations have been categorised as skilled. Non-EU visa applicants who fit those skills criteria will be allowed into the country to fill shortages. Local Government Association deputy chief executive John Ransford says that from a council viewpoint, the main skill shortages are for planners and social care workers. Dave Kaye, deputy managing director of UK Bus, says the company's annual recruitment of 4,000 drivers would now focus mainly on British nationals. He explains that a lack of drivers a few years ago saw the firm bring in 1,700 workers from EU countries – 90 per cent from Poland – but admits that "the well is beginning to dry up". Indeed, it is widely recognised that many Polish nationals – and other central and eastern European economic migrants – are returning home as the economies of their native countries burgeon. Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne accuses Labour and the Tories of a bidding war to see who sounds toughest on immigration with "a chase after headlines rather than a solution to uncontrolled borders". It seems that the promise of harmony in America may yet be short-lived, while Britain battles over the implications of British jobs for British people.