Iain Duncan Smith is not “daring to tell the truth” about migrant workers

Iain Duncan-Smith's 'bravery' on immigration may have played well on the Daily Mail, but it ignored several inconvenient facts.

Ruth Grove-White is a policy officer at the Migrants’ Rights Network

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has reignited the migrant workers debate, with controversial comments reminiscent of Gordon Brown’s disastrous statement advocating ‘British jobs for British workers’ back in 2007.

Mr Duncan Smith’s provocative speech, delivered in Madrid yesterday, was prominently trailed in the Daily Mail, which expressed relief that the former Tory leader is ‘daring to tell the truth’ about migrant workers. However, a closer look suggests that we may be being led astray once more on this issue.

The bottom line in Duncan Smith’s argument is that British welfare reforms can never succeed without tighter immigration controls to squash the competition for semi- and low-skilled work faced by resident job-seekers.

His view is that British businesses got too used to ‘falling back’ on employing migrant workers rather than Brits under New Labour – and that without more immigration controls ‘we will risk losing another generation to dependency and hopelessness’.

Let’s deal with the question of which migrants we are talking about first. The fastest growing group of low-skilled migrant workers in the UK over the past decade has been people from Eastern Europe, whose numbers rose from 4,000 to 239,000 between 2002 and 2011. EU freedom of movement rights allow them to come here to work.

The UK no longer has any low-skilled work route from outside the EU, although significant numbers of people born outside the EU are working in low-skilled occupations in the UK. However, this group are primarily family members of migrants or Brits, people who have settled or naturalised here, or Brits born abroad. All this means that there are many people working here whose numbers the Government simply cannot limit, whatever Duncan Smith would like to see.

But let’s not panic, because evidence that migration has negative impacts on low-skilled British job-seekers is mixed.

Although low-skilled migrant worker numbers did rise substantially under the last government, there is mixed evidence about whether they had a displacement effect on resident workers, with many researchers struggling to find the evidence for this. Although there is some evidence (pdf) of slight wage depression at the bottom end of the labour market, this is not overwhelming.

Going back to Mr Duncan Smith, why, given all this, might he have launched such an attack on labour immigration today? He has just launched his £5bn Work Programme, which aims to help 2.4 million people get into work amid major cuts to the welfare bill. Given the UK’s faltering economic growth and high unemployment levels there are plenty of reasons why his major reforms might fail to deliver – but they have little to do with immigration controls.

Much more important than waving a stick at migrant workers and encouraging UK plc to discriminate against them in favour of Brits would be to take a long hard look at why some major sectors of the economy including hospitality, financial services, and healthcare have become rather dependent upon migrant workers.

Much wider regulatory measures would need to be put in place to make many of these jobs appealing to the British workforce, including addressing minimum wage enforcement and working conditions. Long-term investment in ensuring that the skills needed by employers can be found in the residential workforce will also be needed.

Unfortunately, there is no quick solution to the problem of unemployment in the UK. But we should know by now that blaming immigration is not the answer either.

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31 Responses to “Iain Duncan Smith is not “daring to tell the truth” about migrant workers”

  1. Crimson Crip

    Iain Duncan Smith is not ‘daring to tell the tru: http://bit.ly/kWWUeB: writes @migrants_rights' @ruthgwhite #UKimmigration

  2. Michael

    Iain Duncan Smith is not ‘daring to tell the truth’ about migrant workers I Left Foot Forward l Ruth Grove White – http://j.mp/mpOLke

  3. Jill Hayward

    Iain Duncan Smith is not ‘daring to tell the truth’ about migrant workers I Left Foot Forward l Ruth Grove White – http://j.mp/mpOLke

  4. hugh jones

    Until all sides stop demonising the British workforce we’ll never reach agreement. Here’s a reminder of how the trouble started: newlistener.co.uk/home/bbc-memes-the-british-layabout/

  5. Robert

    Self employed electrician working on large scale contracts all over the UK, charging £75 a day. Within a year that same electrician had to drop his rate to £35 a day, within two years he had given up because he could not under cut the immigrants who come here from Poland take over the contract charging twenty five a day, they live in tents Caravans and then when works starts to dry up they go, home not paying insurance tax or anything.

    I use to work on new house building to wire up a house takes me three days this contract as wages and material so it would on average cost about £1,450 to £1,600 per house, the last time I was asked to do this type of contract the price had dropped to £900 one even charged £400 which did not cover the material I’d use, I have no idea how these people made it pay but they did.

    To simple painting a house, the lowest of the contract because basically we are told anyone could do it, three bedroom house price for painting with material is about £250 to £400 that price actually dropped to £100 it takes three to four days to paint no way a person can make the min wage.

    I have just seen a large scale contract building 200 houses next to me four of the contractors are Polish they have Polish vehicles which state the name number and contact details in Polish, they basically live in the van.

    Oh I know about doing this I use to travel from contract to contract to make enough money in the winter I use to live in a tent near the contract, I use to live off a Primas stove with soup as my main food.

    We are going back wards not for wards.

  6. Johan Hari

    1.Self employed electrician working on large scale contracts all over the UK, charging £75 a day. Within a year that same electrician had to drop his rate to £35 a day, within two years he had given up because he could not under cut the immigrants who come here from Poland take over the contract charging twenty five a day, they live in tents Caravans and then when works starts to dry up they go, home not paying insurance tax or anything.

    I use to work on new house building to wire up a house takes me three days this contract as wages and material so it would on average cost about £1,450 to £1,600 per house, the last time I was asked to do this type of contract the price had dropped to £900 one even charged £400 which did not cover the material I’d use, I have no idea how these people made it pay but they did.

    To simple painting a house, the lowest of the contract because basically we are told anyone could do it, three bedroom house price for painting with material is about £250 to £400 that price actually dropped to £100 it takes three to four days to paint no way a person can make the min wage.

    I have just seen a large scale contract building 200 houses next to me four of the contractors are Polish they have Polish vehicles which state the name number and contact details in Polish, they basically live in the van.

    Oh I know about doing this I use to travel from contract to contract to make enough money in the winter I use to live in a tent near the contract, I use to live off a Primas stove with soup as my main food.

    We are going back wards not for wards.

  7. Ed's Talking Balls

    Well said Robert.

    I would much rather hear your views, as someone who knows about this directly, than someone with an abstract interest who has read/written a few articles and looked at some statistics.

    Political parties refuse to remove their fingers from their ears when it comes to public opinion on immigration.

  8. Lee

    ‘there are many people working here whose numbers the Government simply cannot limit, whatever Duncan Smith would like to see’

    What a stupid comment. The government’s job is to govern…if the EU or the UN is preventing it…it can bloody well tell them where to go and get on with its job of governing Britain in the best interests of the British people.

  9. Fred Willey

    Your argument against Mr Duncan-Smith’s call for British workers is purely subjective. Like so many who encourage immigration, you never give a sensible reason. The people of this country have worked hard over the last 200 years, and now the silent majority have lost their rights, as a people. Now the country is overcrowded, They have lost their infrastructure. there is little good skills training or education for the workers, who are blamed for the mess crated by politically motivated Unions in the 1970’s.
    We have broadly welcomed those who came in the 1960’s following the decline of empire. But what Blair’s government did and did not do was a disgrace. Many of us want no more Europe and no more immigration or migration, and are not afraid to labeled bigot racist or by any other name. The days of believing we are not worthy are long gone, we have been led down blind alleys of idealism for too long.
    You have no argument!

  10. Ed's Talking Balls

    Hari,

    Can I quote you on that?

  11. Martell Thornton

    Iain Duncan Smith is not “daring to tell the truth” about migrant workers: Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Dunc… http://bit.ly/iA4x2m

  12. dennis

    Iain Duncan Smith is not “daring to tell the truth” about migrant workers: Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Dunc… http://bit.ly/lfJ2y0

  13. paulwalteruk

    RT @leftfootfwd: Iain Duncan Smith is not “daring to tell the truth” about migrant workers http://t.co/he7pTVb

  14. Leeann Stephenson

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  15. Fe LOTEMPIO

    Iain Duncan Smith is not “daring to tell the truth” about migrant workers: I have just seen a large scale contra… http://bit.ly/m2LcoR

  16. Leon Wolfson

    Fred;

    Thatcher did the damage, not immigrants. The Coalition is doing the damage, not immigrants. Blind xenophobia, as usual. Of course you’re facing someone with no “argument”, they’re plain RIGHT.

  17. Ed's Talking Balls

    ‘they’re plain RIGHT.’

    And therein lies the problem. This arrogant, blind insistence that immigration is self-evidently beneficial and therefore requires no justification is highly damaging. Issues must be debated and opposition, strong in this case, must be heard.

  18. Leon Wolfson

    No, it’s called not having my head stuck in the sand. Moreover, I was countering the argument that the reason for the problems is immigration, and not the legacy of Thatcher, the coalition’s economic policy and the banking crisis.

    But please, keep on arguing for that. Typical tabloid nonsense, ignoring the actual data and hammering away with an entirely emotional, irrational response – the very same as the coalition’s, Job denial.

    A policy which rejects someone who got a O1 “superstar” visa to America is, frankly, a pile of horse manure. This is what you are supporting.

  19. Look Left – Up to 10 million face starvation in Horn of Africa | Left Foot Forward

    […] Ruth Grove-White of the Migrants’ Rights Network and Left Foot Forward’s Declan Gaffney explained on this blog […]

  20. Eurinteg

    RT @leftfootfwd Iain Duncan Smith is not ‘daring to tell the truth' http://bit.ly/kWWUeB @migrants_rights @ruthgwhite #UKimmigration #IDS

  21. Ed's Talking Balls

    Job denial? Nah, don’t think it’ll catch on like Labour’s deficit denial. Given that this is an evidence based blog, I’d point to falling unemployment figures.

    And while you might call it ‘not having [your] head stuck in the sand’, I’ll stick with my description of ‘arrogant, blind insistence’.

    Incidentally, I’ve not been ignoring the actual data. Immigration has been rising at record rates and polls demonstrate serious public concern at its impact. Further, while economists like to reduce discussion about immigration to simple graphs, social impact is rather harder to analyse in such a way. History teaches us that ignoring ’emotional’ reponses can be very unwise.

    P.S. Rampant mentions of Thatcher might indicate emotional, irrational responses of your own.

  22. Migrants Rights Net

    Iain Duncan Smith is not “daring to tell the truth” about migrant workers > by MRN Policy Officer Ruth Grove-White http://t.co/GeovrUs

  23. LJM

    Iain Duncan Smith is not “daring to tell the truth” about migrant workers > by MRN Policy Officer Ruth Grove-White http://t.co/GeovrUs

  24. Migrants Rights Net

    RT @leftfootfwd: Iain Duncan Smith is not ‘daring to tell the tru: http://bit.ly/kWWUeB: writes @migrants_rights' @ruthgwhite #UKimmigration

  25. Sunder Katwala

    RT @leftfootfwd: Iain Duncan Smith is not ‘daring to tell the tru: http://bit.ly/kWWUeB: writes @migrants_rights' @ruthgwhite #UKimmigration

  26. Fred Willey

    Thatcher acted to save the country from bankruptcy following the Wilson-Callaghan government; The coalition are doing their best to save us from the financial and moral meltdown left by Blair-Brown. Nomatter what your politics or financial fantasy, economics, the law of the jungle, ultimately rules. You can not demand what you do not have, you can only have the “rights” which your resources can support, only maintain the justice which the people can sustain.
    Thatcher seemed harsh, but what alternative? She saved us from ruin.

  27. Leon Wolfson

    Ed; “Falling” unemployment is based, as I’ve said before, on a survey. Given the JSA seeker numbers rose, I would have to see a sustained trend in the survey results – not just a one-off – to believe that’s really happening.

    Also, denial over jobs AND denial over the damage thatcher did? Heh.

    Fred – Because we owe the debt internation…oh, it’s mostly internal. Right. And we have our own currency. And what’s this, most of the coalition “cuts” are ideological? And business rates seem to be slashed. And they’re making the UK a tax ha… no, don’t believe a word you posted.

  28. Fred Willey

    Leon: Time to start joined up thinking or you will be left in chaos now the sofa is empty. The top brass became so wealthy and the workers so poor when Blair-Brown unpicked the better side of Wilson-Callaghan. Now we run on the treadmill, family life hard to sustain. The checkout girl will sit for 6 hours but the union cared not a jot, pension funds were raided, still without a care. Its only worth the effort when real damage could be done, to an imagined foe.
    It is all a compromise, but so right that all apply our common sense.

  29. Leon Wolfson

    “Joined up thinking”? Ah, is that what you call conflating factors and getting into a muddle.

    I’m a mutualist, I *certainly* have strong views on income inequality…and a good part of the CAUSE is the weakness of unions. and the blatent favouritism shown to unearned income (i.e. lower tax rates on non-income profits) and larger corporations. Oh, and exclusionary policies, which are already blocking skilled workers from bringing investment and jobs here.

  30. Anil Hadij

    Yes my name is not local, but I’m third generation, so don’t start with flippant put downs and I count myself British.

    Leon explain to me the benefits of increasing immigration when our country faces 2.8 million unemployed, what are the benefits for these unemployed people of immigration into their communities.

    And if you do think their are benefits how can Labour offer a government to meet the aspirations of these new immigrants when the conditions of the newly immigrant and existing peoples, i.e, You, Me, Fred & Ed, are undergoing profound changes, as well as providing the economic conditions that make it viable to get say a million of the 2.8 million back into employment which is sustainable for them as individuals, not as a statistic, rather than for good of the margins of the institutions employing them?

  31. Luc

    I will never understand why acknowledging that Migration on this scale is deeply harmful is such a bad thing.

    Say no one new came into the country from today, not a single soul came or left, ask yourself this:

    Can we afford to educate, house, provide, for that static population of 62 million?

    You all know the answer is plain and simply NO.

    So how is unchecked EU migration EVER a good thing, 240,000 extra people settling here, each year, every year, from outside of the UK.

    I should point out I am a third generation immigrant being Italian, I`m not against migration generally, but anything over the number that exit the UK at present, i.e. 77,000, is worrying.

    A City`s worth of people a little under the population size of Coventry appearing in the UK every 12 months over and above the exit figures is frankly insanity generally, let alone in times of hardship.

    The problem is not external migration as the politicians would have you believe it is E.U. migration, unchecked, untamed, and barely anyone is paying attention. In 5 years the city I have lived in for the last 20 has changed dramatically and many many people are getting progressively more dissolutioned and annoyed of a myriad of issues and perceptions be they right or wrong, this will not end well.

    Say hi to 240,000 extra people every 12 months. Our friendly eastern european neighbours.

    All of my quoted figures are from the O.N.S.

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