Thursday, October 24, 2013

What Immigration Problem? It's a Poverty Problem!

Following on from SOYMB previous posts on immigration Zoe Williams in the Guardian makes some useful analysis. 

Labour has backed the ConDem government plans to toughen the immigration system by cutting back on benefit payments and grounds for appeal against deportation. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told MPs her party would not oppose the Immigration Bill but "amend and reform it" as it went through Parliament.

Jonathan Portes, the director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research,challenged the Conservative MP Stewart Jackson, who claimed that the proportion of EU migrants to the UK who had never worked was 37%. According to Portes Jackson's figures were incorrect by a factor of over three.

 Jonathan Wadsworth of the Government's Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) and Professor of Economics at Royal Holloway, who points out “native born youth unemployment rose less in areas that experienced a larger change in the share of immigrants...And there’s little doubt that the depression of local economies in some Northern cities is responsible for both the high unemployment and relatively low immigration in those places”

David Goodhart's analysis of Bradford's special educational needs (SEN) crisis because Pakistanis all marry their cousins simply isn’t true because  there isn't a crisis, Bradford has 21% SEN, compared with a national average of 20%.  Douglas Carswell's "tsunami of economic refugees fleeing the eurozone" turns out to be another exaggeration since it is  a slight increase, but it's not a tidal wave.

 Labour thinks its electability rests on being more anti-immigrant than the Tories. Factual refutations – migrants don't cause the NHS to collapse, they hold it up; migrants are not net recipients of public money, but net donors – make no dent on the contours of this landscape. We've fallen into a trap where we accept from the outset that people are units of sale, to be weighed and measured by their economic activity. If this is the case, it doesn't matter what the facts are – if migrants are working, they're taking our jobs; if they're not working, they're thieving our benefits.

 Bridget Anderson in her  book, Us and Them? The Dangerous Politics of Immigration Control, is enlightening makes these crucial points: the migrant everybody worries about isn't the person on £120k, who has freedom of movement anywhere in the world. We're really talking about the global poor: "The migrant is seen as being too mobile, they really should stay in their own country. Whereas the British national is seen as not mobile enough.”

 Once we recognise the fear of migrants as the fear of the poor being allowed freedom of movement, we see its roots not in the earliest immigration laws, but in the earliest vagrancy laws of the 14th century. The three preoccupations were the labour market (what the roaming poor would do to wages); social cohesion (what the "masterless man" might be capable of); and freeloaders (the giving of alms to capable workers).

The conversation now is set up as a straight fight between the British poor, who belong here, and the migrant poor, who don't: "They're positioned as competitors for the privileges of membership. The low-waged are trying to hang on by their fingertips and try to push everybody out. Very often you're tolerated if you try to push other people out – if you're the hard-working immigrant, and you're better than those benefit scroungers. Or you're a hard-working citizen, and you've had your job stolen by these immigrants."

In accepting those terms, we miss – and therefore allow – the erosion of the freedoms of all the poor, regardless of nationality, the most dramatic example of which is the new requirement that you have to earn £18,600 to bring a spouse into the country. Sixty-one per cent of British women earn less than that; the better off now have a right to family life that others don't. A fundamental human right was stripped away while the mainstream was panting over net migration figures. The immigration bill, in triggering a swath of surveillance mechanisms – banks, landlords, doctors, mandated to check your status – has ramifications for all of us. These are all deliberate verbal and policy strategies to segregate citizenly rights and sense of belonging by income, so that the more you earn, the more rights you have and the more you belong here. The colossuses of the made-up migrant statistics aren't really afraid of foreigners; they're afraid of the mobile poor, as well they might be.

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