Ed Miliband's speech on immigration and integration today talks about real policy issues, and is not just designed to play to the concerns of the tabloid media.
In a week in which immigration has been in the news, Ed Miliband has defied the moral panic with a surprisingly courageous and considered speech on the integration of new migrants; for once, it is an immigration speech that talks about real policy issues, and is not just designed to play to the concerns of the tabloid media, writes Jill Rutter
Tuesday saw media frenzy about the latest Census 2011 release. This highlighted the growth of in the proportion of the population born overseas – it was 13 per cent in 2011 – a level predicted in the Annual Population Survey and that is comparable with most western European countries.
Yesterday, home secretary Theresa May, in a speech at Policy Exchange, (LINK 2) engaged in the usual immigration firefighting. She made some concessions in relation to student migration, while promising more rigorous checks on would-be students from high risk countries. In future, some MBA and PhD graduates from outside the EU will be allowed to stay on after their courses have finished.
May also promised tougher checks on would-be students, but failed to address how the UK Border Agency or Foreign Office consular services will deliver these checks, when staffing levels have been severely cut.
Generally, dealing with one border control issue generally takes away UK Border Agency resources from elsewhere – for example, asylum determination or the removal of foreign national prisoners – and leads to high profile operational disasters that play so badly with public opinion (pdf). There is surprisingly little debate about how much we want or need to spend on border control.
Ed Miliband could have continued with the immigration firefighting. Instead he chose to address an equally important immigration concern: integration – what happens to migrants after they arrive in the UK.
Integration is a crucial issue, for migrants themselves and the communities that receive them. And the failures of migrant integration – unemployment, educational under-achievement and social segregation – also have the potential to be costly to the public purse and exacerbate negative public perceptions about migrants.
Many migrants integrate successfully, into the workplace, in their new neighbourhoods, and their children make good progress at school. Other migrant groups are less successful and there is considerable variation (pdf) in the economic and social aspects of integration within migrant groups.
The employment rate among some refugee groups and those who have come through family migration routes (as spouses) tends to be lower, with Labour Force Survey data suggesting just 20 per cent of those born in Somalia were in work in the last quarter of 2011.
Being in work supports integration, as the workplace is a space where migrants meet and mix with those from outside their community. But there is considerable occupational segregation in parts of the UK economy – in the health and social care sectors, catering, and food processing, in particular.
The causes of occupational segregation are complex, a view supported by a recent statutory inquiry (pdf) of the Equality and Human Rights Commission into meat processing. This found preferential treatment of migrants by a small number of employers and recruitment agencies. However, the inquiry also found the low wages of the sector – sometimes below the National Minimum Wage – and unpleasant working conditions deterred UK-born workers.
The inquiry stressed the importance of upholding employment rights such as the National Minimum Wage for all in the meat processing sector. This would benefit migrants, but it may also result in making meat processing a more attractive form of employment to UK -born workers, decreasing ethnic segregation in this sector and enabling the workplace to be a site of integration.
Nearly 12 months ago, the government published Creating the Conditions for Integration (pdf), its own strategy paper on this issue. This slim document placed responsibility for integration solely on local government and had no coordinated programme of work is attached to it. Crucially, too, there were many omissions, with no mention of how the Work Programme might improve employment rates, or how the government might tackle occupational segregation.
The Miliband speech promises a comprehensive national integration strategy. It addressed occupational segregation and also the residential segregation seen in some inner city areas. New migrants to the UK are overwhelmingly housed in the private rental sector, with some inner city areas now dormitories for migrant workers (and UK students).
Private rental accommodation is usually characterised by insecure tenure and it can be squalid, overcrowded and unsafe. Miliband promises stronger regulation of the private rental sector, a move that would benefit both newcomers and UK nationals alike.
Securing the integration of new migrants is a difficult task for all governments. There are no quick and easy solutions. Integration also requires the long-term commitment of many different government departments and effective inter-departmental coordination has always been weak on this issue.
Perhaps the most important theme raised in the Miliband speech was his desire to acknowledge past failures and to discuss and prioritise this neglected issue.
Jill Rutter writes on migration issues and through IPPR will be publishing a paper on integration in February 2013.
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• Time to talk about integration – March 6th, 2012
• There’s no magic bullet to encourage integration – February 27th, 2012
• Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical and potentially discriminatory – July 28th, 2011