This week the Evening Standard organized a public debate on immigration in London where the speakers’ panel represented a wide variety of opinions which have been expressed in the public in the context of EU enlargement, upcoming General elections in 2015, London’s public services, multiculturalism, unemployment etc.
On the ‘no to immigration’ side the argument is that immigration hurts people at the bottom of the society – those local low-skilled British people with low-income, therefore London should be controlling immigration in terms of quantity and quality (they do not mind though having highly-skilled immigrants who make high added value to the economy and boost UK economy’s competitiveness globally). They say that in the last 10 years about 1 million people have come to London which creates a massive pressure on the public/ social services here – health care, schools, transport system, housing and employment opportunities. Those who oppose immigration argue that whilst London celebrates its multiculturalism, there are also lots of segregation, safety problems due to immigration; it makes downward pressure on wages and increases competition for public services.
Those who support immigration argue that immigrants make greater net contribution to the economy than local people. They also challenge the very concept of who the pure British person is as almost every Londoner can name their own ancestors coming from another country and culture. They say that British people are just lazy, spoiled, with different work ethics and salary expectations than the immigrants. Local people lack technical skills and therefore building and construction sector, which is one of the drivers of economic growth, is attracting lots of immigrants who can easily out-compete and outperform the local people. Is this the fault of UK education system or the people itself? I guess, that’s one of the ‘1 million dollar’ questions.
But, what i really missed in this discussion and all the other public debates on immigration generally, is a perspective of an immigrant. And, not only that but an ability to see this ‘problem’ or ‘phenomenon’ (whichever word you use; depends on how optimistic or pessimistic one is) in a much wider, global context. Human workforce rotates around capital, therefore – the higher the concentration and centralization of capital (London – the centre of global capital market!), the higher attraction of people to the place where this capital is. It’s a common sense. And it is fair. One country cant support and gain from freedom of movement of capital on the basis of the competitiveness of the business without supporting and accepting also the freedom of movement of labour/ human capital. If that’s not the case, then it’s a robbery on a global scale.
If UK and London really thinks that it cant have endless streams of people coming over to live on this island (there have been worries of overcrowding), then it should be ready to promote more equal distribution of the capital (de-liberalization of the financial markets, closing tax havens to prevent multinational companies from avoiding tax in countries where they work, stopping race-to-the bottom etc), let other countries to grow (prefer fair over free trade and not promote brain-drain) and therefore prevent people from moving (they will have good enough jobs back home). London should admit that there is a direct correlation between it’s concentration of global wealth and concentration of global population. If London thinks there are limits as to how big it can grow in terms of its population, then probably the sad truth is that there are also limits as to how big financial/ capital centre London can become.
From immigrant’s perspective, London or UK is definitely not the place where one would move because of the weather or nice climate; also, London is very fast-pace, competitive, stressful, expensive. So many people (just imagine all the Caribbeans, Italians and Spanish! they suffer here) would simply prefer to stay where they are but due to the economic situation in their home countries, they are coming over to London for jobs.
If UK really wants to limit immigration, it should think of ways then how it can help improve employment opportunities in the countries from where the most immigrants come. That will not only improve UK’s image, but also support growth of other economies, let people make enough money to prevent them coming over to UK and give then more jobs to the local people in UK. Everyone will be happier!
Another solution i would offer is increasing the minimum salary to a level when even doing the simplest job – cleaning, shop assistant, picking and packaging berries etc – will let someone to earn decent salary to live a decent life without relying on social services (check out Norway as a case study). It will increase the costs for businesses, but it will also then maybe solve the problem of dependency of British economy on immigrants who are not work-shy and are ready to work for 5-6GBP/ hour. For candidates in the next General elections it is now a political choice: to stay on the side of British people (getting votes) or British/international businesses (getting financial support).