Leading article: Progressive, or pandering to popular prejudice?

Share

Now that the Home Office minister, Liam Byrne, has announced when the new points-based system for immigrants will come into effect, it is worth setting out again why this scheme is a thoroughly bad idea - just as it was when the idea was first proposed by the Conservatives under Michael Howard. Under the existing arrangements, foreign workers or employers apply for a work permit directly from Whitehall. But, from next year, prospective immigrants are to be awarded a points score depending on their skills, the sector in which they are applying to work and other factors including their age. To be successful they will have to acquire a high enough score.

This all betrays a fatal misunderstanding on the part of the Government of how an open and growing economy functions. Will a civil servant in Whitehall really be able to judge whether a particular worker will be of benefit to the economy? Are we seriously expected to believe that immigration officials will respond quickly when informed that there is a labour shortage in a certain sector? The free market has always proved better than officials at filling labour shortages. But ministers seem determined to create a system of central planning.

The most immediate effect of the scheme will be to reduce the number of unskilled foreign workers allowed in. It will, for instance, shut the official door on unskilled labour from beyond the European Union. This discrimination against the unskilled makes no economic sense. Such workers have been absolutely crucial in the UK's economic boom. They have contributed as much as the "scientists and entrepreneurs", who are the most favoured immigrant group under the new system.

Yet we should be in no doubt as to the real purpose of this scheme. It is designed to placate those powerful forces in our society that want to curb the number of foreigners coming into Britain. How can the Labour Party, which has always presented itself as internationalist and progressive, justify this?

The unctuous Mr Byrne has become the latest in a long line of ambitious Labour ministers to attempt this task. He has contributed to a pamphlet, arguing that although immigration has made Britain richer, it has also "deeply unsettled the country" and is "damaging" some of Britain's poorest communities. Mr Byrne points to pressure on public services, claiming that in his own constituency, Birmingham, the population of children with English as a second language in one school has risen from 5 per cent to 20 per cent in a year. He also cites overcrowding in private housing and "cost pressures" on English language training.

It is true there are social pressures related to immigration levels. But this is only part of the story. Schools and other public services are under pressure in many areas, some of which have experienced no immigration at all. And is immigration really the cause of the South-east's housing problems, or is it the scandalous lack of new homes being built? Meanwhile, to argue that one of the "problems" associated with immigration is pressure on English language training shows breathtaking hypocrisy. It seems immigrants can be castigated by ministers for their failure to learn English, and also blamed when they take up the opportunity to do so. To make matters worse, the Government is scrapping free English training for migrants altogether.

Immigrants are being unfairly blamed for a whole host of problems and disgracefully few senior politicians are speaking up in their defence. The truth is that these latest efforts to curb immigration have nothing to do with dealing with the underlying problems they purport to address and everything to do with pandering to popular prejudice and misplaced resentment.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Brand Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you wish to be part of an exciting journey ...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Recruitment Genius: Print / Warehouse Operative

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join ...

Beverley James: Accounts Payable

£23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The dress can be seen in different colours  

White and gold or blue and black - why has this dress captured our collective imaginations?

Victoria Richards
 

Daily catch-up: the battle of the election videos, and a robot sarcasm detector

John Rentoul
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower