Rick of Flip Chart Fairy Tales has written a very thoughtful piece about Ed Miliband’s recent speech on ‘ordinary’ people’s concerns around so-called immigrant workers. Miliband and Rick are both absolutely right that this needs to be discussed; and also correct that if proper discussion doesn’t occur, improper (by which I mean unpleasant, unfair) commentary will fill the gap instead.
I have suggested in a response to Rick’s blogpost, however, that there’s also another dimension to be factored in, viz, population in the demographic sense, and the economic / resource demands especially of large, wealthy indigenous families.
There are lots of people in Britain, and the number is going up. In that respect healthy young men – who comprise the largest group of incoming workers – actually help to balance the dependency ratio more comfortably and should by any rationale be welcome; they make little demand on services, they contribute to the economy (though I take the point about swings and roundabouts for low-waged UK workers) and they don’t, on their own, reproduce / add to the number of dependents in the UK.
Multiple challenges, not just one
The real challenges however may be these:
Firstly, workers who do stay on in the UK have families, and these families may be larger than the norm. The obvious response to this is: if the women concerned are educated and there are opportunities, the number of children will be smaller and the quality of their early years , however well-meaning their parents would be anyway, is likely to be better – i.e. they will grow up better educated themselves, and healthier. The ‘answer’ is not to refuse reasonable access to the UK for genuine spouses, but surely to ensure that people who arrive are / will shortly be equipped to cope well in the UK.
And secondly, there is a real problem with the family size of some seriously wealthy UK people who think it OK to have very large families. Very wealthy people consume far more than their fair share of global resources, and when they have large families that problem becomes much larger still. Individuals all arrive on this planet innocent and without volition on their own part, so no use ‘blaming’ wealthy babies any more than ‘foreign’ ones; we are all in this together in that respect. But as adults we all have responsibilities, so maybe wealthy adults need education too – in how to respect the finite resources available?
Wider contexts of resource stress
Whilst then we can understand the perceived ‘problems’ (from some perspectives) of immigration, I do worry that this current discussion is not balanced by consideration also of other serious pressures of various sorts on our economy and social structures.
We all need to think about the bigger demographic issues as well; and large families, especially large wealthy, resource-demanding families, are also a significant factor in increasing these pressures in ways just as important in the long-term as the availability or not of jobs now.
Social class, not nationality
In the family size scenario it’s not national / ethnic identity which is significant; rather, social class is (as things stand) the major factor in distinguishing excessive demands on resources from more modest ones. Low income families may in the first generation be large, but as we noted with education and opportunities, second and subsequent generations are likely to have smaller families. Very wealthy people however may persist in having large families simply because they can.
Of course Ed Miliband is right now to address ‘ordinary’ people’s worries about jobs, and of course things can be done to make that better, given political will.
Looking to the future
But the longer-term challenges of population growth will eventually be even more impactful on ordinary people and their standard of living, unless these issues are also thought through soon.
And discussing all this would take political courage of a dimension much bigger than simply initiating a sensible debate about jobs and (?) migrant workers, wouldn’t it?