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

Business Analyst,HR,Halifax,£400-450pd

£400 - £450 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Project Coordinator - Cisco Partner - £110 p/d

£110 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Project Coordinator (SC Cleared), Cisco Go...

Recruitment Consultants - IT - Trainee / Experienced

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £40-50K first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

Primary teachers needed for supply in Huntingdon

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers need...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: genius of Apple, fools and commercial enterprises, and the Queen

John Rentoul
Tory whips were anxiously ringing round the “usual suspects” following Douglas Carswell's defection to Ukip  

i Editor's Letter: Douglas Carswell's defection

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone