A Blunder For Which We’ll All Pay The Price

A blunder for which we'll all pay the price

The Daily Mail

Last updated at 09:01am on 22nd November 2006

Britain is facing the largest wave of immigration for nearly 1,000 years. The number of Huguenots B in the 17th century and the Jews a century ago are trivial compared to the present flows.

A large part of the inflow comes from the new East European members of the EU. If these people wish to work, they must register, and today's figures show that the number who have registered since eight new countries joined in May 2004 has hit the half-million mark.

The Home Office, never let it be forgotten, predicted that this figure would be a maximum 26,000 over two years.

What effect is all this having and how long can we expect it to continue?

For a start, the registration numbers are looking increasingly dubious. They have never included the self-employed or temporary workers – the Government themselves have added nearly 50 per cent to take account of this. Even more worrying is the real number of East Europeans who have decided to stay in Britain compared with the number the Government claims have stayed.

Official statistics suggest that three-quarters of them go home within a year. But these figures are based on a passenger survey which focuses almost entirely on Heathrow, Gatwick and Manover chester – while East Europeans arrive on budget airlines, mainly at Luton, Stansted and regional airports.

The Governor of the Bank of England has complained twice publicly that the numbers of immigrants are so unreliable that he cannot estimate how tight the labour market has become and, consequently, whether or not there is a need to raise interest rates.

There is growing evidence of British workers being replaced by East Europeans. And since East Europeans accept lower wages, British workers – from construction workers to truck drivers to flower arrangers – are suffering pay cuts.

The East Europeans can afford a lower wage. They are mainly single. They can, and often do, live in very crowded conditions. And, of course, they can earn four or five times what they would earn at home. This is all good news for them and for their employers. East Europeans have established a solid reputation for hard work, turning up on time, and making few demands. Lower wages mean higher profits. They also mean lower inflation and somewhat lower interest rates.

The middle classes are happy too. Cheap nannies, cheaper restaurants and a cheap hand-wash for the gas guzzler.

Underclass of long-term unemployed

But there are snags. Not only do the low-paid suffer a reduction in wages. Worse, we risk building up an underclass of long-term unemployed.

There are a million young people who are neither in work nor education. If you add those on incapacity benefit to the unemployed (now at a six-year high), you have nearly five million people who are not working and, more importantly, have little prospect of doing so for the forseeable future.

Which employer is going to take a young British worker off incapacity benefit when he can take a bright, young, energetic and probably over-qualified Pole?

The Government frequently claims that East Europeans are filling gaps in the labour market. But we have to examine the facts, not the spin. It is five years since the Government first proclaimed that we need immigration to fill 600,000 vacancies in our labour market.

Since then, immigration has added about three-quarters of a million to our population. Yet, believe it or not, vacancies are still at 600,000.

The reason is that immigrants are not only filling jobs, but they are also adding to consumer demand, which, in turn, creates more jobs so that vacancies in the labour market remain the same. The Government's argument is demonstrably false. The main outcome is that we become an ever-more crowded island. And that is where the shoe really pinches. The strain on our public services and infrastructure grows by the day. Children are turning up at school gates with no English, and no warning. Rents are rising sharply as the buy-to-let market booms and house prices rise. More young people find it impossible to get on the housing ladder as prices spiral.

I do not mean in any way to be critical of the new arrivals. They work hard and fit in. But the bottom line is that we are a small island and are already overcrowded – especially in the South East.

The Department of Transport has forecast that traffic on our roads will increase by 30 per cent in the next ten years and by 40 to 50 per cent on motorways. Gridlock approaches. It is time that serious thought was given to how many people we can sensibly accommodate on this island.

Romania and Bulgaria on our doorstep

Is there any relief in sight? Not in the Third World, from where the majority of immigrants still come. As for Europe, Romania and Bulgaria are no longer on the horizon but on our very doorstep. From next January, 30million people from these countries will be free to enter Britain.

In the longer term much depends on how much time it will take these countries, given substantial aid from Brussels, to reach our level of economic prosperity. Poland, the source of 60 per cent of East European immigration, will be a key factor. At present, its wealth per head is only just over a third of ours.

Even if its economy grows at five per cent a year (and we maintain our long-term growth rate of 2.5 per cent), it will be 34 years before they catch up.

Demographics will help. The two most populous countries – Poland and Romania – will both have a declining number of 18-year-olds in the years to come, down by about a third over the next 20 years.

Eventually too, the other EU countries will be obliged to open their labour markets to the new member states.

But the biggest factor of all is how long our newcomers decide to stay.

Eventually, the flow of those going home will balance those arriving and we will be in the same situation as we are with, say, France.

This interchange of people is what the EU is all about. Eventually it will enrich all our lives. The Government's mistake has been to rush into the free movement of labour with countries so much poorer than ourselves.

It now tries to spin this decision as a great success, hoping perhaps that we will overlook its massive miscalculations which originally forecast that only 13,000 East Europeans would come here a year. The reality is it is putting a brave face on a blunder for which the less fortunate in our society are now paying.

Sir Andrew Green is chairman of MigrationWatch and former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria.