Cast your mind back to 2007 and before. Back then when things were going swimmingly well, one of the hot topics of discussion was immigration.
These days, of course, immigration isn’t the topic it was. People are more concerned about their own jobs. But it is not difficult to see how current insecurities could spill over, and how, all of a sudden, Johnny Foreigner could get the blame for everything.
The call for British jobs for British workers did smell a little bit of that. No doubt Gordon Brown regrets those words. He should do, for that phrase has become the call of the xenophobes.
If you find yourself defending the cause of free trade and free movement of labour, and point out there are more British construction workers working in Italy, than Italian construction workers working in Britain, you may get a response along these lines: “Yea, but there aren’t many British construction workers working in Poland.”
That is one of the dangers in this crisis. Some economists hide behind their mathematical models, but don’t factor in human nature. There is a very real danger, right now, that the global economy could retreat on a tide of protectionism, with individual countries turning themselves into economic fortresses. Only bad can come out of that.
As for Eastern Europe, and the migrants from that region, we would just like to say that the problems in Emerging Europe are very serious. If you are not worried about what is going on in that part of the world, you should be. The latest economic projections are suggesting contractions in Emerging Europe that are of the kind of level that create violent conflict.
Let the xenophobes win the argument, and the ultimate result will be a UK economy that contracts, and finds itself on the corner of a Europe experiencing the biggest rise in social unrest since the period before the Second World War.
Anyway, that rant out of the way, some news is in on the migration of workers from Eastern Europe, and it’s down, way down.
According to the Home Office, in the three months to December last year, there were 29,000 applications from workers from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia and the Czech Republic – down from 53,000 in the same period in 2007. The decrease is mainly explained by a drop in approved Polish applicants, which fell to 16,000 in the last quarter of 2008 from 36,000 in the same period in 2007.
The statistics also show that the majority of workers coming from the A8 countries in 2008 were young – 78 per cent were aged between 18 and 34 – and only 11 per cent stated they had dependants living with them in the United Kingdom when they registered. Of those registered in 2008, 86 per cent were working for more than 35 hours per week.
Although applications for Jobseekers Allowance from A8 nationals rose in the last quarter of 2008, of the 2,540 who made applications only 832 were put forward for further consideration.
The Bulgarian and Romanian Accession Statistics show that applications from these two countries have also fallen. There were 920 applications for accession worker cards and 6,990 applications for registration certificates in the last quarter of 2008. For the same period in 2007 the figures were 1,260 and 8,845 respectively.
Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said: “The number of Eastern Europeans coming here to work is dramatically falling and research suggests that many of those that came have now gone home. Nevertheless, the Government is doing everything it can to ensure migration is working for the British labour market and the country as a whole.”
You know, during the boom, the migration of workers from Eastern Europe was cited as one reason why house prices were set to continue rising. The people who made these projections totally failed to factor in that the migration flow could go into reverse.
The real problem with migration earlier this decade always was that it couldn’t continue. In a few years’ time, this country, along with many other countries, will face a problem which will make the current crisis seem like a walk in the park. It is the problem of retiring baby boomers.
One thing is for sure, those who believed rising house prices could fund their retirement were living in a land situated some way above the clouds. Ultimately, an inward flow of migrants can go a long way to solving the bubbling pension crisis.
But the real test is now set to begin. Up until recently, unemployment wasn’t a problem in the UK. Polish migrants were filling vacancies that would otherwise have remained empty. But what now? With unemployment rising, and the migration flow close to going into reverse, will unemployed British workers do the jobs that the immigrants would otherwise have done? Or at a time of rising unemployment, will we find that there are still a huge number of vacancies for the type of jobs that many Brits feel are beneath them?
© Investment & Business News 2013