Sunday 15 March 2015

On immigration, Ukip just needs to grow up

Ukip immigration policy: peddling a fantasy and hiding from the truth

Progress always has losers. Rapid, revolutionary change leaves some behind. The impact has not been fair on some parts of the population. Nobody disputes that. Now Brits want something done about it. That is easier said than done. On the one hand Brits are moaning about a cost of living crisis, but on the other hand a great many would pay more tax to control immigration.

If you take a serious look at immigration you soon arrive at the conclusion that there are no easy answers. There is no turning back the clock, the immigration we have is irreversible and the benefits outweigh the costs for most. But it does not come without its problems. We can take more people, but there is a balance to be struck between the economy and quality of life.

While those in Ukip voting seaside towns feel bewildered that their towns are "swamped" with immigrants, they will have to get used to the idea that it's either this, or the death of their towns completely. What we have manifestly failed to do is properly manage the impact. Our ability to integrate and develop civic infrastructure does not keep pace with immigration. So it has to be managed. Urgently. Not least because a new wave is coming and we are not prepared.

The feeling is that white working class people are losing out. They are. So what can be done about that? An immigration freeze would be suicidal. A points based system only leads to more illegal immigration with more workers working under the radar and not paying tax, thus undercutting the domestic work force. This is true of most "unskilled" labour. Especially care work, security and food production. We know this because this is already a feature of our broken points based immigration system.

So what can be done about it? This blog has made the case that tackling vagrancy, housing overcrowding and minimum wage abuse is key - and more could be done to send a message to care homes and restaurants that flouting these laws means bankruptcy. Government is slowly waking up to this but what we are seeing is mainly high profile blitzes rather than sustained execution of policy.

A functioning local authority approach to tackling the symptoms goes a long way to tackling immigration perceptions, of which social services is a huge part. The Rotherham scandal is less to do with immigration than the criminal ineptitude of local government and police - which is not by any means the fullest extent of local government decay. I have little confidence any party truly has the issue surrounded. Especially not Ukip.

If we can fix what is wrong in local authorities we then at least have a level playing field in the labour market. But the perception that British workers are lazy and won't do the jobs immigrants will do is not one undeserved. Our kids have been brought up with a half decent education and have expectation of a better life than packing sausages at a conveyor belt. It's easy to get a job like that. Much harder to keep it. I know. I've had my share of bullshit jobs and lasted about a week each time.

But Brits will have to get used to the idea that things are more competitive now. As a professional programmer I find I have to work very hard to stay at the top of my game because wages are shrinking while employers demand a much broader array of skills, some would say unrealistically - and few are willing to train. So we are going to have to do something to make training more accessible and more affordable. Any half decent software training programme costs at least two thousand pounds and if you're on the dole - that's not an option.

But then even after a raft of welfare reforms, the benefit package still outweighs the benefits or working for some. Sanctions are working to some extent, sending out the message that long term benefit dependency is simply not an option. The other way we are squeezing out welfare dependency is with the Bedroom tax which is an essential policy tool. It's killing off remote former mining villages and forcing families to move to the cities where there are more employment options. It forces families to re-evaluate their choices and forces them to make decisions they would rather defer. It's hard, but it's fair and it's the right thing to do. It's the one radical measure the Tories have been steadfast in. Naturally, this essential measure is something Ukip opposes because they think cheap populism helps their cause. It should also be noted that Ukip does not have a welfare reform policy.

One thing we really can do to help the left behind is resist the urge to build houses in London. The cost of London is its own deterrent and it's pushing many young professionals back out into the other cities. This is hugely beneficial to regeneration. I'm not seeing a down side. Especially since building more houses in London has zero impact on affordability.

Meanwhile, with the middle east in chaos, as usual, we have a new wave of immigration coming our way. We are going to have to take some and we are going to have to share the burden with our European neighbours. But to slow the rate to a rate we can manage it is going to involve international co-operation and a lot of money. Not least foreign aid and international development - something Ukip doesn't want and thinks is there as a charity slush fund. We must deal with the push factors as well as the pull. The real question is how we reform foreign aid to make it work in the national interest rather than it being a vanity tool of wristband foreign policy.

The short of it is that "controlling our borders" is neither realistic or affordable and we're not going to tackle immigration by pulling up the drawbridge. It's just as much a problem for France, Germany and Italy as it is for us. There are things we can do but that means getting our act together locally and engaging globally. It means accepting a few harsh realities, sending a message to Brits that they need to accept that what's done is done, they need to grow up, embrace what's good about it, then come forth with realistic solutions to the problems that we can deal with. That most certainly excludes Ukip from the debate.

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