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Amber Rudd’s’Name and shame’ proposal leaves a lot of unanswered questions and a rather irksome feeling.

Despite all claims to the contrary I’ve always tried to avoid the simplistic view that BREXIT was primarily about race and xenophobia. Whilst no one is denying that the ‘breaking point’ campaign and indeed a lot of the leave campaigns rhetoric was focused on immigration (despite EU immigration being limited to Europe these campaigns tried to focus on refugees, which is kind of ironic considering we still have a duty to them with or without our EU membership) there were other factors that would encourage someone to vote leave.

My article on Public Opinion and the Young People Who Voted Leave discusses several of these alternative reasons and shows that many people were influenced by the perceived anti-democratic way the EU was run, they wanted to leave what they saw as a global superpower that was trying to control 28 countries from a remote headquarters, and/or they wanted Britain to have more control over their destiny and economy. It would be very naive to assume that no one voted leave due to racist and/or xenophobic reasons, but the idea that these were the only reasons highlights the remain campaign’s failure to appeal to people in the first place.

Recent events have made me a little disturbed, however.This ‘name and shame’ policy that attempts to look at how many non-British born people work for a particular company does sound quite sinister because the aim appears to be quite clear. This policy seems to have been discontinued due to the backlash it recieved, but the fact that this was an option, the fact that this is what our government wanted to focus on is a little scary and perhaps shows what is to come. According to The Guardian Amber Rudd’s aims were as follows:

“Under her proposals, firms could be forced to disclose what percentage of their workforce is non-British as a way to encourage them to hire more locals. Ms Rudd said she wanted to “flush out” companies abusing existing rules and “nudge them into better behaviour”.

Source http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-37561035

Whether they publish their findings or not the goal seems to be to check how many migrants compared to how many British born people work for a particular company and if they are not satisfied that British people are getting first pick at the jobs they may take measures to encourage the company in question to focus on British applicants and give them first choice for employment. I am not sure if these policies will focus on people who weren’t born in the U.K themselves or people whose ancestors were immigrants, nor do I know whether it will focus on a particular group (i.e European immigrants or non-EU immigrants).

I also don’t know if ‘British born’ is going to be based on race or residential status and how that’s going to be qualified (will Amber Rudd count you as a British citizen if you weren’t born in Britain but have British citizenship? Will a recent immigrant with a better application be turned away in favour of someone who has no relevent experience but is a Britis citizen?) but either way this seems very contradictory to our apparent commitment to inclusion and the need to encourage a more representative, diverse workforce not only so our workforce reflects the country we actually live in but so we don’t end up with stale ideas and we don’t miss out on talent.

We already know that we have a problem with diversity in British industries, and even though we have schemes and quota systems in place to encourage a more diverse workforce they don’t always seem that effective. We know, for example, that around 8% of the Creative sector (i.e media, film and art-based jobs) are nonwhite, and when we consider that a lot of these jobs are based in London where the demographic is roughly around 40-60% this is quite shocking. (source here: http://www.gold.ac.uk/news/the-creative-industries-and-meritocracy/)

From a quick Google search on the subject I found the following statistics:

  • Black workers with degrees earn 23.1% less on average than white employees with the qualifications
  • Ethnic minority people were more likely to live in poverty than white people
  • Ethnic minorities are still “hugely under-represented” in positions of power – such as judges and police chiefs (info found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37114418)When they are talking about hiring more locals, what jobs do they mean? Do they mean the NHS where a significant portion of the workforce is made up of Non-British born staff? Do they mean the jobs many British people simply don’t want to do or don’t have the skills for? Do they mean the more competitive industries where diversity is still a real issue? And what do they mean by foreigners? Is this based on your race, where you were born, or is it simply how soon it was that you moved to the UK? If you were brought up here and lived most of your life here but you happened to be born in another country how do you fit in? How do you qualify a British person and how do you qualify a non-British person?

    It is hard to get a job in the U.K and a lot of this is because there is too much competition for certain jobs, not enough jobs to go around and a real preference for free labour under the guise of ‘internships’. How we could sort that out is a whole other issue, but the solution isn’t to close off all opportunities to people who ‘aren’t British enough’ if they have the skills that the particular job needs. Surely if companies are encouraged to hire as many ‘British’ workers as possible it will exasperate inequalities. Surely changing hiring policies so ‘the British come first’ would increase racial profiling? Surely ‘British Jobs for British workers’ is quite an open statement which doesn’t really mean anything,  because who is British and who isn’t? What are you basing that on?

1

Thoughts on Syria

This has been a pretty intense week. After a ten and a half hour debate in the house of commons on Wednesday the UK government voted in favour of extending air strikes to Syria and contributing to a bombing coalition with the US and France in that country. After the decision was broadcast, a lot of people took to social media to voice their opinions. I have personally seen far more comments against the motion than I have for, but it would be wrong to say that public opinion is unanimously or extremely against the strikes. Public opinion is never unanimous, and not everyone takes to social media to voice their opinions. There are a lot of arguments on both sides, and both are right in parts and wrong in others.
The idea that military action should never be an option is frankly un-realistic, and some people seem to have bought into the hype surrounding this vote and decided that it means the UK will personally start dropping thousands and thousands of bombs on innocent people. This is an overstatement. The UK is contributing a small number of air crafts to an existing operation, and it has basically been admitted that our contribution is unlikely to make a significant difference, they are also meant to be targeting Daesh only and avoiding civilian areas.  They are not trying to target civilians and they claim that the RAF has not killed a single civilian during the already existing operation in Iraq, in reality this is very hard to prove because of the sheer depth of destruction in this region and dubious sources, and we may never know for sure if this is true or not. We also do not know and may never know how many civilians are going to be effected or killed by extending the operations in Syria.
Syria is already being heavily bombed by different, overlapping forces and there doesn’t seem to be much proof that it is helping to end or even significantly hurt Daesh, but if there was a proper ground force and a realistic chance at a peace settlement it would be a helpful to weaken them, scatter them and help cut off their resources. As we do not have these things, I do not feel the bombing campaign is the best course of action, and I have not been convinced by any of the frankly half baked, rushed or non-relevant arguments by the MP’s or those who support this.
Some things came up in the debate, including Cameron’s assertion that bombing Syria will somehow make us safer in the UK and all the hype about Hilary Benn’s speech. There is also a very important issue no one seems to be thinking about, which is very worrying as it is extremely relevant to our security and the future of Syria.
I’m going to attempt to address these, but this is a very complex and multi-faceted issue and I’m not going to pretend to know what the best course of action should be. It does worry me that these points don’t seem to have been acknowledged adequately by parliament.

Firstly, the idea that bombing Syria will make us safer does not make sense to me. And the reason for this is simple. Although Daesh currently has its headquarters in Syria, the attacks that happened in Paris were carried out by those in Paris, not in Syria. The people who carried out the attacks may have been to Syria, they were in touch with people in Syria, but they were born in and residents of the EU. So although people who support Daesh and subscribe to their views are likely to be in touch with people in Syria, and as we know hundreds of people from our own country have travelled to, and worryingly back, from Syria, if attacks happen in this country they are very likely to be carried out by people already here, and therefore bombing Syria will not stop their ability to carry out attacks on our countries, and is likely to make ‘revenge attacks’ more likely, as well as potentially so called lone wolf attacks, by people inspired by but not directly connected to Daesh.
There is another reason as well. It is not just extremists who dislike our respective governments and the actions they have carried out in the past and continue to carry out now. There are thousands of people who hate the very notion of religious murder and the whole idea of Daesh who also hate our government and  their previous actions in the Middle East. There are plenty of people who see the war in Iraq as nothing more than a cold, calculated war crime and believe that those who were involved are murderers. And there are also plenty of people who disagree strongly with the decision taken on Wednesday, because they believe it is to do with oil and our governments collective greed. These are non radicalised and often peaceful people who hold these views. These are not limited to extremists. The reason Daesh’s propaganda works is because some of it is based on truth. Not the idea that there is some apocalyptic crusade in which they are fighting, and not the idea that murdering innocent people is going to result in some heavenly reward. But we do have a complicated, long running and often nasty history not just with the middle east but with most places around the world. This is not because people in our countries are abnormally evil, but because human history is full of people doing horrific things to each other all over the world. There is no way to excuse the murders these people have carried out in Europe or abroad. These people have murdered thousands within Syria and continue to stone, torture and execute any dissenters or anyone who even vaguely strays from their vision of Islam and their strict rules on behaviour. They have also filled mass graves with all the people they decided not to rape. And they have and continue to carry out horrific attacks outside of Syria, including our neighbors in France. These actions can never be excused; as human action goes these are among the most evil it could be and I hope everyone reading this is under no delusion that this is the case. But that does not mean that our countries actions over the last twenty years were any less terrible, that innocent people have not died during these ‘liberation’ wars. The ‘west’ are at least partly responsible for the hell that Daesh was born out of. This is by no means the only factor, but it is a factor, and until we stop ignoring our past mistakes we cannot hope to beat  this propaganda. There is also the fact that these people want to be martyred, and they want the west to commit atrocities because it furthers their cause.
This does not mean military action is not an option, but it does mean we have to be more careful when applying it and ensuring that it is part of a comprehensive plan, not just war for the sake of looking like we are doing something.

Secondly, Hilary Benn’s speech was really not all that. In terms of rhetorical devices and the art of public speaking, it wasn’t bad. He had a good use of tone, he applied several effective rhetorical devices and he had good presence. He would have done any debating club proud. But the actual words he said did not offer anything new to the debate, in fact in terms of addressing the issues at hand he failed on several accounts. He played it in such a way that everyone could agree with it without him actually having to say anything of note, and it worked very well for him. His analogy with ‘facism’ was effective because it invoked our feelings about Nazism, but it did not address the issue. This is not the same situation as it was during the second world war not least because warfare has changed a considerable amount. This is not fighting them on the grounds, seas and skies, and fighting a clear army with equal footing, this is dropping a few bombs a week from a great hight and adding slightly to the destruction of a country.
Most of his speech concerned the need to fight Daesh in general. No one was disputing that we needed to take action against them, the issue at hand was whether contributing air strikes, and a small number of air strikes at that, is the right approach to tackle them, not whether we should fight them at all. And he does address that where he says: “Look at how their military capacity and their freedom of movement has been put under pressure. Ask the Kurds about Sinjar and Kobane. Now of course air strikes alone will not defeat Daesh, but they make a difference because they are giving them a hard time and it is making it more difficult for them to expand their territory.”. I find that pretty weak, because whilst it may slow them down, it does not mean they cannot regain the territory fairly quickly without ground forces to stop them and as we have seen in the campaign that is already happening whilst they have been stopped in some areas, they have gained territory in others. Without an effective ground army to keep them from regaining this territory, bombing will at best have very limited success.
His mentioned the ‘ground troops’ that we are relying on to hold the territory being bombed “But I tell you what else we know: it’s whatever the number – 70,000, 40,000, 80,000 – the current size of the opposition forces mean the longer we leave taking action, the longer Daesh will have to decrease that number” is also not a strong statement, in fact it highlights how little we know about these troops we are relying on, especially as they are very likely to have their own agendas. Some of these fighters are fighting for democracy, and some for their right to their own country, and some are doing very well and establishing free societies within that country, but others are not. If we train and equip these people, it is quite likely if we are able to defeat Daesh someone else will easily be able to take their place. The PM has basically admitted that some, who knows how many, are from Al Qaeda, the people we spent the last ten+ years fighting. There are many interests at work here, and I think it is extremely naive to think we can unite them all and control them, especially if they are not sure what we are offering them at the end of all this. And his statement “We are part of a coalition of over 60 countries standing together shoulder to shoulder to oppose their ideology and their brutality.” is something I’m really not convinced about. I’ve tried to find a list of every country involved in this ‘coalition’, and so far I have found around 24 countries with varying levels of involvement, as well as an array of local forces within the region. If anyone has any information on the other 36 countries apparently involved please let me know, otherwise I fail to understand where this figure has come from.
It was not a bad speech, but I do not believe it, or he, deserves the hype.  I do not feel he gave a convincing argument for  whether the UK contributing to air strikes would make a significant positive contribution to this war.  He did attempt address these points, although I do not believe he did so very well, but he spent far more rallying everyone up by making statements that are both easy to agree with and largely empty.

The third and perhaps most pressing point is that this war is far more complex then the MPs made out on Wednesday. It is not a case of a united country being invaded by Daesh that will go back to normal once they are removed. The civil war was not started because of Daesh, Daesh was just able to capitalize on it because of the chaos that was already happening. And the civil war will not stop with their removal. There are many differing and often un-compatible interests in Syria, and it is far more complex than it sounded during the debate. President Assad has most probably killed more Syrians than Daesh have, and many Syrian people have fought for years to remove him. So when and if we can defeat Daesh, there will be a few options, and none of them are ideal. Firstly, we could say that our sole aim was to defeat Daesh and now we will withdraw military action, in which case the chaos is likely to continue and a similar group will sooner or later have the opportunity to emerge, or that Assad will regain power (in which case see point three). We could go against Russia and say that we will continue to fight, and therefore fight Russia to remove Assad, which is likely to anger Iran and Russia and could potentially lead to World War Three. Wars have started for less. Or we could side with Russia and turn the country over to Assad, which is probably the most likely plan, which would be a betrayal of the Syrian people who have spent years in a hellish war. To say all of that was for nothing and that things would be set back to how they were before this all started is almost guaranteed to turn these people against us, and out of all the possible scenario’s the fact will remain that we will have proved to the world we only care about those who directly effect us and are perfectly happy to work with murderous dictators and turn a blind eye to their domestic policies as long as they are friendly to us. Some people are comparing this to Iraq, but it is not the same. It is not a case of us invading a country for no reason and removing a dictator with no end plan, many people in Syria have already risen up against Assad. We are not enforcing this from our comfortable plushy offices overseas, many people in Syria have fought for this for years.

There is no easy answer to this issue, all have the potential to be very messy and unpleasant, and I am not sure anyone really knows how to deal with it  if and when it does come up. What I do know is that by rushing into an air strike on Syria we have thrown ourselves into a much bigger conflict than we would like to think about, and the assertion that it is hardly an issue because the borders are not recognized by Daesh is not the point. The point is that the situation in Syria is not the situation in Iraq, and now we have committed ourselves to something I am not convinced any of the MP’s really understand. I am not saying military action is the wrong approach, and at some point it would probably have been necessary. But I feel they should have spent far longer thinking about the immediate as well as the future consequences and thought up at least the beginnings of a solid plan before engaging these air strikes. The Vienna talks are intended to solve this issue, but I can’t see that happening any time soon, and until they do the situation remains uncertain with or without Daesh. This was not just extending the war. This was much more than that, and to say it is not is to lie to the public.

 

Further reading:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-air-strikes-cartoon-sums-up-the-problem-with-the-international-coalition-against-isis-a6755521.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/11/us-air-strikes-iraq-isis-minimal-impact-pentagon

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/12032102/Awful-though-it-seems-working-with-Assad-may-be-the-only-option-in-Syria.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/12/02/jeremy-corbyn-warns-uk-fa_n_8700172.html

http://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2015/12/heres-the-hilary-benn-syria-speech-transcript-in-full/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/russia-and-france-will-co-operate-against-isis-but-vladimir-putin-and-francois-hollande-at-odds-over-a6750781.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/03/syria-assad-question-means-a-common-front-against-isis-is-still-a-long-way-off

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34981848

3

The transformation of MeadRiver and why immigration can be a very good thing

Home Secretary Theresa May’s October  speech on immigration has attracted a lot of attention, and whilst some people are openly appalled by her statements, a lot of other people are rallying behind her. Here is a quote from the speech, in which she states that immigration is not in our national interest, is bad for local communities and increases poverty: “When immigration is too high,” she said, “When the pace of change is too fast, it’s impossible to build a cohesive society. It’s difficult for schools and hospitals and core infrastructure like housing and transport to cope. And we know that for people in low-paid jobs, wages are forced down even further while some people are forced out of work altogether.” There is, she added, “no case, in the national interest, for immigration of the scale we have experienced over the last decade.”
Julia Hartley-Brewer, a reporter for the Telegraph, appeared to agree with May, and in an article published yesterday she claimed that:”  New arrivals don’t immerse themselves in the language and culture of their new home, they simply move to an area where there are many others from their motherland and set up separate communities. ” and then went on to say: “A study of the latest census by the Demos think-tank found that nearly half of ethnic minorities – four million people – now live in communities where whites are a minority. Is this what we really mean by a multiracial, multicultural society?”

Now, some of you lovely readers probably already know that I am in favor of immigration. You may have seen from some of my recent posts that I believe we can and should allow far more people affected by the refugee crisis into the UK, but it goes beyond that. I like immigration. I want to have the opportunity to move to different countries, both in and outside of the EU. I want live and work in these countries, and I believe other people should be able to live and work in other countries as well. I understand that we cannot have completely open borders, but I also disagree very strongly with the far too popular idea that immigrants are coming here to scrounge off benefits and steal jobs. This has never been proved,  and studies show that a very, very small amount of non UK Nationals claim benefits, whereas the percentage of UK Nationals do claim them is much higher.  (also see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/the-facts-behind-theresa-mays-speech-about-immigration-a6685791.html)
Whilst some employers can and do employ immigrants illegally or pay them less than they would a UK national, it is also true that many people born in the UK are not willing to do some of the jobs migrants, for various reasons, will accept. Also, if the employer is actually paying an immigrant less than a UK national, this is surely taking advantage and not giving the equal rights that a UK citizen may find it easier to demand, and would only really work for cash in hand or illegal employment. Whilst I don’t deny this does happen, I do have to question if it is nearly as widespread or common as is often assumed, or that when it does happen it is for a long period of time, as often someone may start out in an low paying job and the progress or seek new employment.Today I read a comment in the Metro newspaper by a couple who run a retail company, and they claimed that the majority of applications they receive are from migrants who work very hard, as many UK nationals are not interested in this kind of work. As recent Tory measures now mean that immigrants will have to wait four years to claim benefits, surely if they cannot claim benefits, they cannot be benefit scroungers. Whilst it can be hard for UK born adults to gain employment, especially as there is a catch 22 situation where you cannot gain employment before you have experience and cannot gain experience without employment, it is also true that a lot of people are not willing to accept bad pay or a bad work environment (which they shouldn’t have to) and a lot of places (like the office I work in) have quite a high turn over. If someone, for whatever reason is used to poor wages or urgently needs money, this may be why they are willing to accept conditions others are not, which may be the reason why some people who have newly immigrated to the UK may take lower paid jobs.
It is also wrong to assume migrants only take low paid, illegal jobs. Without immigrants, the NHS would collapse. Our economy would suffer. The government would have to raise taxes because we would lose out on all the money these people contribute to our economy each year. Whilst a small number may come here because they hear we are a generous society, it appears that far more come here to work, to provide for their countries, or because they think the UK looks like quite a nice place to live and work, and I have never found any of these anti immigration arguments convincing because they all seem to stem down to unfounded fears and prejudices that don’t actually seem to apply to real life.
I strongly disagree with the idea that immigration is a bad thing for communities or that it encourages poverty. People seem to assume immigration has to have a negative impact on a town, that it will change it for the worst and the town will end up worse off then it was before. Based on a due to my personal experiences in the town I have lived in for 17 years, I would argue that yes, it will change the town, but it does not have to be a bad change, and it may well change the area for the better.  In light of my experiences, I am going to tell you a story about my home town and how immigration, whilst it cannot be seen as the only or perhaps even the most important factor, has a definite positive correlation with the transformation of this town from a crime ridden, BNP centric, isolated ghost town into a comparatively affluent, well connected and, for the area, reasonably safe and pleasant place to live. This is a true story, but in the interests of privacy I am going to call this town MeadRiver.

I moved to MeadRiver with my parents in 1997 when I was five years old. We moved into a housing association rented flat with two bedrooms and a communal garden. The flat we moved into had previously been occupied by a crack dealer who fled in the middle of the night and burned down part of the flat in the process, and for the first few months we were there people would bang on the door and demand money and/or drugs. Our flat was in the ‘nicer’ part of MeadRiver, meaning it was not in a massive grey tower block and didn’t have as many nearby gangs, but it was not by a long shot a good place to live. The town did not have good transport links, there was no nearby tube station (only a train station about fifteen minutes away), it did not have many shops (I only remember a Safeways, most of the businesses are fairly new), as it was filled with massive 1960s style concrete tower blocks it had been used as the set for various Dystopian films that called for a disturbing landscape, and there was a lot of violence, gangs, racism, segregation of the ethnic minorities that lived here, and MeadRiver was a classic BNP ridden impoverished area.
Now, I’m not going to say the transformation of MeadRiver was solely because of immigration, or even that immigration was the most important change that has happened in the last 17 years. The most important change was better transport links, first in the form of a new tube station built about ten miles away (accessible via bus) and later another tube line opening in a nearby town. These transport links made the town more appealing to commuters, and therefore people who earned more money started to move there. This had a knock on effect of more businesses opening to satisfy the needs of the newly fairly well off commuters, and therefore the layout of MeadRiver started to change. New houses also started being built, which tended to be more up market and designed for key workers, rather then being built for social housing. These changes all contributed to slowly change MeadRiver into a safer, richer, more accessible and more active neighborhood.
However, immigration does also appear to have played a part as well. When MeadRiver was first built in the 1960s, it was one of the most homogeneous estates in London, and even though it did experience immigration before we moved, from what I (and my parents) recall, in the first few years it was still a largely white working class area.  Then in the 1990s, there was an influx of immigration from non EU countries (largely from Nigeria and Ghana) which has transformed the ethnic makeup of MeadRiver. Starting out as a homogeneous, BNP centric town, MeadRiver is now one of the most multi cultural places in London and, although it is by a very small percentage, there are slightly more people of African origin living here than UK nationals (White British 33.3%, Black African 35.6%). Therefore, MeadRiver is one of the areas Teresa May and Julia Brewer must be referring to. And yet, far from the influx of immigration changing MeadRiver for the worst, with increased poverty and lack of social cohesion, my experience suggests quite the opposite.

MeadRivers higher affluence coincides with higher immigration levels, and this may well be because a large number of those of African origin who moved to MeadRiver got themselves jobs, seemingly fairly well paid jobs. The part of town I live in, which is still one of the nicer parts of MeadRiver, has a large African population, and from what I have seen more than half of the people who have the nice cars, live in fairly nice accommodation, and share my daily commute to central London are non white (and as MeadRivers used to be fairly homogeneous, I have to assume that most of them immigrated in the last two decades).  This is obviously not true of everyone who lives here, and the greater transport links and  more upmarket housing has simply made the town more attractive to more people regardless of their race, but the fact still stands that the influx of immigration has not, in any way, made MeadRiver a worse place to live, and has a positive correlation with the positive changes that have occurred in this area during the last 17 years. Those who immigrated here also appear more likely to have a decent job, live in a nice house and presumably pay taxes. Whilst I am not suggesting that the majority of white british born adults in MeadRiver don’t work, live off benefits and belong on Jeremy Kyle, to assume the opposite is just plain wrong.
Crime, whilst still a problem on the estates, also appears to have decreased and you feel fairly safe walking around this town at night, indeed safer then you do in the nearby, bigger towns. There are several African supermarkets around the area, and some churches which tend to be fairly dominated by black people have sprung up around the area, but I don’t see this as a bad thing. Call me crazy, but I would take a few churches over crack dens any day. And whilst white BNP supporters do still exist, they tend to stick to this one pub in the town center and not really bother anyone. I never hear about high levels of violence anymore, and as far as I am aware muggings and theft are quite uncommon in my area. As far as cohesion is concerned, it doesn’t appear to be an issue. There is a strong black community, but I don’t see why that should threaten me, or why I should have a problem with it.
I have been to our local NHS services and they are as fast as you would expect from an NHS doctor, I have managed to get tests and check ups quickly after booking and have never had to wait that long for an appointment. As far as housing is concerned, the influx of people seems to have encouraged more and better housing being built, as MeadRiver is still quite far out of London (although the Crossrail may change this somewhat) prices still tend to be cheap for a London borough, and whilst it has expanded out to accommodate its growing population, I am not aware of any substantial housing shortage in the area as compared to other areas with less immigration. There are quite a few primary and secondary schools in the area, and I am not aware of overcrowding being an issue. As more people moved to MeadRiver, more local businesses opened up in the area because there was a need for them, and these businesses employ local people.
As far as I, as an almost life long resident of this town am concerned, all the changes that have occurred have been for the better, and the influx of largely non EU immigration has helped contribute to this town in a positive way. I see no signs that immigration has had a negative effect on MeadRiver. I appreciate this may not be the experience of all towns effected by high immigration, particularly those out of London area, but as my personal experience and observation is concerned, immigration is at worse a neutral influence, and at best a positive contributor to raising levels of affluence, safety and transport. Everyone always seems to assume immigration can only have a negative impact, and I would like to hear about other peoples experiences because I really do not see why immigration is always painted as such a bad thing.

Articles on Theresa May’s immigration speech

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/11915376/Theresa-May-saying-what-everybody-thinks.html

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/oct/06/reality-check-is-theresa-may-right-about-immigration

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/11916438/Theresa-May-is-right-Britain-does-not-need-more-immigrants.html

http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/12-things-theresa-may-immigration.html

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/oct/06/reality-check-is-theresa-may-right-about-immigration

4

‘Affordable housing’ and why David Cameron’s ‘Generation Buy’ is not for young people

This is my little article/expression of frustration concerning David Cameron’s new housing policy. He is quoted as saying: “When a generation of hard-working men and women in their 20s and 30s are waking up each morning in their childhood bedrooms – that should be a wake-up call for us,”, as part of a speech about changing ‘generation rent into generation buy’ and pledging more ‘affordable’ houses available to buy at a capped rate.
I took some issue with this, not with the first statement (which is very true) or with relaxing housing regulations (which I’m actually in favor of) but because Cameron is trying to sell this as a good thing for the younger generations, when in actuality it is very unlikely to help them at all.

Now, I’m not against people buying their own homes. If you want to own your own home, that’s fine. That’s good. Whilst you’ll have to pay for your own repairs and damages, you will not have to deal with landlords turning up to ‘inspect’ your property and you can decorate and do what you like (as long as your neighbors don’t complain!). Plus, you can also fix up your house, sell it for a profit and buy a beach house in the South of France (or dream destination of your choice). Personally, I’m not that bothered about the supposed British dream of ‘owning your own home’, but I understand its appeal and it is disappointing that despite politician after politician pledging more affordable housing year after year, prices actually seem to be rising and it is a lot harder for people to move out and afford their rent/mortgage than it seems to have been few decades ago. It seems that even twenty years ago the idea of someone in their mid 20s or early 30s living with their parents was quite rare and seen as a bit weird, whereas now its pretty standard. This isn’t just because buying is expensive, but because renting is ridiculously expensive as well and if you live in London you often have a choice between renting a tiny flat which is going to eat up at least half of your income (not accounting for bills, travel and living expenses) or living with your parents indefinitely until you have enough money to survive in your property.

I’m really not sure encouraging buying  and making it harder to rent is the way to go. Firstly, I’m pretty sure you need a bigger deposit for a mortgage than you do to rent a property. That means a lot of younger people cannot afford to start buying on their current income, and if you cannot rent these new ‘affordable’ properties because they are only available to buy, this will not benefit you. The Independent ran an article on the subject, which suggested that these new houses will only benefit those who earn more than £50,000 a year, and is actually going to reduce the amount of cheaper housing in the long run. Whilst a lot of people do earn more than £50k, these people don’t tend to be in their 20s. These are people in the middle of their career, people who have had promotions and have enough experience to apply for more senior positions, or people who have money from non vocational means (like the stock market or inheritance). Unless you come from a wealthy family or have been very lucky and/or incredibly ambitious, it is unlikely that someone in their 20s or early 30s is going to be earning 50k a year. I don’t mean to say that people over 30 shouldn’t have more houses to choose from, but David Cameron cannot say he is building houses ‘for the younger generation’, and then build houses that very few of said generation can afford. If he wants to build these houses, there is no need to lie about the motivation.
Also, getting a mortgage on a house is quite a big step. It means that this is your house (unless you sell it, although there are precautions that will stop you selling these new houses for a quick profit) and you may be stuck with it for some time, even if your job changes, or your life or circumstances changes, or you just want to move somewhere new. Whilst renting is for a set period of time, it can be for as little as six months and allows a certain degree of flexibility in your life, you can also leave early if you find someone to take over your rent which I’m fairly sure doesn’t apply to mortgages. It is true that a lot of people may want this security, particularly those with partners and/or families. However, many young people (particularly those in their 20s) may find the idea of buying a house that young quite unnerving and not particularly attractive. Your 20’s are about moving around and finding out what you want to do and where you want to live, not about settling into a mortgage at, say, 24 and being stuck with it for the next 25-30 years. Making it harder for people to move house easily also means less houses will be available in the short term, as rented properties are likely to have a higher turn over and greater flexibility.  I personally always thought a mortgage was for when you were settled into a solid, stable career and quite possibly had a solid, stable relationship with a partner who you could share your mortgage with, and whilst this may apply to some people in their 20s and early 30s, I doubt its that high a number. Whilst I don’t deny some people want to own a house from an early age, a lot of other people don’t, and I don’t really agree with Cameron when he assumes that everyone wants to own their home right now, and that renting is not a good alternative for many people.
Renting is far more attractive to me personally, but even though I work full time (and earn above the living wage) and have people I could split the rent with, most places are either way out of my price range, or are possible if I don’t eat/ever go outside/spend money on anything apart from rent, bills and (if I’m lucky) oyster card. Rather then make more affordable houses to buy, I want to see a lot more properties to rent in the hope that if there are more properties available, the prices will go down enough that regular people earning regular money can actually afford them and not bankrupt themselves in doing so. You can have your ‘affordable houses to buy’, but this should not be at the expense of rent-able properties that are, for many of us, the only option.

I am sure more houses are being built, but it doesn’t seem to be going fast enough. As I’ve said in my refugee crisis post, there are currently 610,000 empty homes in the UK and many unused commercial buildings that could, fairly easily, be converted into housing. I am not 100% of the status of these houses, whether they are too expensive for most people to afford (likely), if they are condemned, used for squats or just abandoned. It’s probably a mixture. But these houses are there. Whilst we do also need to build more homes, we can and should do something about these buildings that aren’t currently being used. Whilst I’m not a builder or a town planner, I feel it is logical that an empty commercial building could be turned into housing accommodation more easily than building brand new houses, or saying you are going to build more houses, and whilst some of them will become new commercial properties, some of them will just sit unused for years.  I accept you can’t utilize all empty commercial buildings, but using some of them would be a step in creating more affordable housing.

Basically, whilst I don’t think building these houses in itself is bad, the justification used is completely wrong. These houses are not going to benefit the majority of young people, they are not going to be affordable for those under a substantially above average income, and buying rather than renting is not necessarily the best option for young people. We can have these houses, but please can’t we also start utilizing the properties we already have as well as allowing more houses to be built so perhaps, one day, affordable housing will not be a pipe dream.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-34460822

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/oct/07/pm-cameron-vows-scrap-rules-forcing-developers-build-affordable-homes-for-rent

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-s-solution-to-the-housing-crisis-only-affordable-to-those-who-earn-more-than-50000-a6684246.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-34460822

25

The Calais Migrant Crisis

There has been a lot of stuff in the papers recently about the Calais Migrant crisis, where thousands of refugees are trying to gain entry into EU countries.  In this post I’m mostly talking about migrants from the Middle East in countries such as Syria, although I am generally favorable to all immigration unless those in question seek to deliberately harm this country (i.e terrorism). A lot of these points will also apply to other immigrants, such as those coming from African countries, but I want to focus on those from Syria and the Middle East as the attitude towards them is what I find especially shocking at the moment.
What strikes me about this is the anger and indignation that many British people seem to feel about these migrants trying to come to our country, the claims that they are ‘stealing our jobs’ and driving down wages for the working class, that they are perpetuating a already bad housing crisis, that they just want to come here and live on our taxes. Our government is trying to send the message that Britain is full, Britain is not friendly to asylum seekers and, if rejected, you will face hardships and be deported back to your own country. That it is illegal to house or employ illegal immigrants, that they must be reported. Some people are trying to take a moral high ground, saying that taking in these immigrants will cause a ‘brain drain’ in the countries in question, that we will contribute the long term worsening of conditions in these countries. When people say this they may be thinking more of African countries than places like Syria (although this is in itself a debatable issue) but  where certain Middle Eastern countries are concerned this argument seems fairly ridiculous. Syria is currently a very dangerous place. There is war, there is extremism and there is extreme intolerance. Many of the educated people in that country, particularly journalists, writers or anyone who has anything to do with free speech will thus be in danger. They can’t stay to contribute towards their countries economy because their skills are not allowed under the current regime, and I feel that journalists who have been in these countries and who have seen these regimes first hand would be invaluable to our own press.

Now, the UK is a small country but I strongly question the idea the it is ‘full’. If you have ever been on a coach or a train going through the country side you will see vast amounts of un-populated land, and yes a lot do have crops and animals and we do need to preserve some of our wildlife and avoid cutting down trees, but really, there is space for new houses. There are large areas of abandoned land, and land that is owned by someone or other that doesn’t have much use for it and may be tempted to sell it if the occasion arose. There are also a lot of abandoned buildings all over the country (which, although un-used, are getting harder to squat in) that could easily be converted into flats and housing. There are new building projects that can and should be done, and it is possible. Britain is small, but it is not full and from what I can see is not in danger of being full for quite some time.

There also seems to be this assumption that all migrants are low skilled and will drive down wages, and/or they want to come here for unemployment benefits. Now these two ideas are quite at odds with each other. If someone is willing to do a poorly paid and often un-pleasant job in order to get any money that they can, surely they didn’t come here to ‘scrounge on benefits’. Under Cameron’s new regulations they will not be able to claim benefits for quite a while anyway, and if they are illegal presumably they wouldn’t be able to claim them at all. The NHS is free at the point of entry and if the asylum was accepted a refugee would be able to use it, but if they are working at all surely they are somewhat entitled to it? The fact is that those migrants who do take low paid jobs are often doing jobs British nationals may be unwilling to do, and the fact they are not granted asylum is what allows employers to pay them less to begin with. If they were granted citizenship, they would both be in the same competition as UK nationals and be contributing to our economy in taxes, and regulations would prevent them being paid less. Even if they are currently being paid less, these would often be wages many in the UK would reject. It is not that migrants lessen wages, but that they are more desperate and therefore easier to exploit then UK citizens, and all the problems we may currently have around some employers favoring illegal immigrants is because they are illegal, not because they are immigrants.

It is also very wrong to assume all migrants are lowly skilled. Many are teachers, doctors, lawyers, journalists etc who could contribute to our society in a real way. Please keep in mind that these people have to pay for their passage to  Calais, and it isn’t cheap. Many of these people do have the capacity to earn a decent wage for themselves, and it is our regulations that stop them rather than their own faults. Many people want to come here because they believe (whether its true or not is a different issue) that they will be able to work in the UK and create a better life for themselves, that they will then be able to support their families, and there are many people who are born and raised in the UK who do not work and do live on benefits, who would refuse the kind of work that a desperate migrant would gladly take. Many migrants are hardworking, skilled people who are just trying to create a better life for themselves out of a bad situation, who are coming here not out of greed or even ambition but out of necessity, and even if for practical reasons you do not want them to move here surely you can appreciate that most have legitimate reasons for wanting to come.  In some areas, such as parts of Wales, there is a serious shortage of trained UK Nationals who can work in public sectors like the NHS, and the leader of Plaid Cymru has said on national television that Wales not only wants more immigrants for that sector, but they need them.

People don’t take life risking long journeys to a country which is probably going to reject them for the fun of it. We know the situation in Syria, we know that people are being murdered for any kind of dissent, and I’m sure we can all understand why someone may want to leave. Treating them like criminals because of the desperate situation they are in is ridiculous. These people aren’t coming here because they want to steal what we have, they are coming here because many of them will die where they are. Making it harder to survive the trip and sending them to jail won’t stop them coming, because if the choice is between oppression and death or the chance of escaping to a better life, many people are going to take the chance. I certainly would, wouldn’t you? I accept that at the moment the EU is probably an easier place to live then a lot of other places, and countries like ours do have to have some kind of regulation over who can move here until such a time where it would be possible to have open boundaries and free worldwide immigration. However, being angry at the desperate people who are risking their lives at the chance to have what we take for granted is ridiculous. Maybe we can’t save everyone, but we can and should do what we can.