February 10, 2006: Yes, We Love Polish Plumbers, But How Many More Does Britain Need?
Yes, we love Polish plumbers, but how many MORE does
By Sir Andrew Green, Chairman, MigrationwatchUK
Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Daily Mail, London, 10 February, 2006
THE POLISH Plumber is back in the news. The EU Commission is singing the praises of East European migration to the West. But people in Britain are getting concerned about the number of new immigrants turning up all over the country – for example, BBC2s Newsnight found that 3,000 Poles had popped up in Crewe, of all places.
So what is going on? Are they a threat to British jobs? Or are they filling skill vacancies essential to our continued prosperity?
The answers depend on how many have come, or will come, and what they actually do.
The Government likes to harp on about scare stories. It prefers not to mention their own estimate of East European immigration of between 5,000 and 13,000 a year. With good reason. The actual number who have applied to register under the Governments Workers Registration Scheme has hit 293,000 after only 17 months.
Can we believe this figure? Probably not. Independent research suggests that the numbers could be two or three times those who have officially registered. In any case, the self employed do not have to register. This explains why, officially, there were only 95 East European plumbers in Britain when the Daily Mail found that number in West London in the space of a morning.
Another weakness is that East Europeans do not have to reregister if they change jobs after they have worked here for a year they just drop out of sight
Nor do they have to de-register when they leave, so the total number of registrations has little meaning. It is quite possible that many have come just for a few months to improve their English, save money and go home.
If so, no problem, but nobody knows. Not a brilliant scheme, you might think.
But it has achieved one success. It has prevented benefit tourism so far at least. Under pressure from the Press and the Opposition two years ago, the Government closed off much of the welfare system to anyone from the new member states who had not come to work.
Those who register can still claim child benefit, tax credits and housing benefit. But they have to work for a year before they will become eligible for Jobseekers Allowance and other benefits. The Government should be grateful that it was alerted to the risk of benefit tourism.
Whatever the precise number coming here, it is considerable and is starting to have an effect. East Europeans, more than half of them Poles, are spreading out around the country in a way that previous waves of immigrants have not. Only 40 per cent go to London. The remainder can be found anywhere between Aberdeen and Penzance. Most of them are earning very little by our standards: 80 per cent get less then 6 per hour, although many have some qualifications.
Agriculture, food processing, hospitality and administration are the main sectors.
Should we worry? After all, many of them are doing useful jobs that cannot otherwise be filled at the wages being offered.
And there is the rub. Wages are the key. In a free market, if employers cannot recruit, they must raise wages. This will attract people to the jobs. These higher wages become an incentive to employers to invest in new equipment and thus raise productivity.
But that process is being impeded. Low wages are staying low. This is good news for employers. They have a supply of cheap labour. Interest rates can be slightly lower and growth a little faster. They can even have cheaper restaurants and affordable nannies.
Do we really want to import an underclass of people working for a pittance and too often exploited by employers who know that they need the job? One Polish girl I know of was working 12 hours a day in a Turkish restaurant in London for 1.20 an hour. Another took one look at the scene and, to her credit, walked out after 45 minutes.
It is not just the immigrants themselves who are affected, but also the most vulnerable in our society sometimes from an earlier generation of immigrants.
There are now 1.5 million unemployed and 2.7 million on incapacity benefit whom the Government is trying to encourage back to work. This would be helped by higher wages, not lower. Some joined up government is needed here.
Will these numbers continue to build? And where will it all lead? The figures have been increasing steadily and are likely to continue as people in Eastern Europe build up their contacts and their networks in Britain.
Whether they will come for months or years, we know not. One thing is sure. With wages in Britain five times those in Poland and with 20 per cent unemployment in that country, the numbers will be substantial for years to come perhaps until the low Polish birth-rate reduces the numbers available.
The inflow might be lower if other EU countries opened their labour markets as the EU Commission recommends. But major countries like France and Germany are unlikely to do so.
They already have high unemployment and they have seen what has happened in Ireland where the numbers, relatively, are even higher than in Britain and where opinion polls show that 78 per cent now want to see the reimposition of work permits. The next decision point will be the entry of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU, which is due in a years time (although it may be postponed a year for other reasons).
The arrival of these two countries will add another 30 million, who, if the British Government again opens our labour market, will be free to come and work here Their unemployment rates are not as high as Polands but they are three or four times less wealthy than Britain.
It would be nice to think that the Government had some kind of policy on the number of people whom we can accommodate on this island. England is already second only to Holland as the most crowded country in Europe.
According to the Governments own figures, immigration is adding a million to our population equivalent to the population of Birmingham every five years. And immigrants will need roughly a million houses in the next 20 years. Can someone explain where they will be built?
All of this is before the full effects of Eastern European immigration are felt. We simply cannot go on like this.
If the Government wants to see large-scale immigration from Eastern Europe, it simply must reduce it from elsewhere. Foreign immigration last year was just over a third of a million. We cannot absorb people at this pace.
Our society is rapidly being changed without the consent of the people. Successive polls have shown that 80 per cent of the public want to see much tighter immigration controls. When is the Government going to listen?
Sir Andrew Green is the former British Ambassador to Syria and Saudi Arabia.
Copyright of Sir Andrew Green The Daily Mail, London, 10 February, 2006
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