Oh dear. It’s been a bad day listening to ill-informed, ugly or from the EU stupidly unhelpful comments on the possibliity of workers from Romania and Bulgaria coming to the UK en masse next year. Henning Meyer of Social Europe Journal wrote a concerned blog and I replied as below
It is not about public services. EU workers live mainly in private rented accommodation and but-to-let landlords or people who bought council houses to rent out have made a fortune from EU workers. Most EU workers are fit and young and do not need medical treatment. A problem can arise when dependent (elderly) relatives arrive but the greatest non-UK use of the NHS come from Commonwealth citizens and from Americans. Britain has always accepted mass worker immigration from the much poorer (until recently) of Ireland. Cameron has been helped by those Labour politicians who now say there should have been transition controls for the new EU member states in 2004. But there were already 500,000 Poles in the UK in 2004 as Britain has always had a big Polish community and it was easy to find work. The Poles benefitted the strong growth high employment UK economy that broke down in 2008. It was when unemployment took off and there was real competition for work at the unskilled low-pay end of the labour market that problems arose.
What is true is that in the past 20 years there has been a great deal of mass migration following the end of communism, the rise of Balkan, Middle East and African conflicts creating a huge push of young men out of those countries and the new global transportation networks that move people across frontiers more easily than in the past. Too many have arrived too suddenly. In addition, the old-style immigrant who came and integrated into host communities has been replaced by what I call ‘semigrants’ – people who via the net, satellite TV and cheap travel – never fully leave the countries they emigrate from.
But let us be clear. There are scares all over Europe about new arrivals. We have seen in France how a few hundred Roma can create a national panic with a socialist interior minister, Manuel Valls, sounding much tougher than Cameron does.
The Euro Parliament elections will see wins for those stoking up fears on immigrants, incomers, EU citizens from poorer states. It is no use wishing this away or trying to be angelic. A better approach might be to insist on fair pay, enforced minimum wages, union rights or works councils and a degree of co-responsibility of financing core social services. But that requires rethinking the organisation of the UK labour market and indeed the welfare state as currently in operation.
Meanwhile statements that seek to demonise or treat as modern-day Untermensch citizens from Bulgaria or Romania should be condemned. The idea that there is a Ukip-lite answer to this is false. The problem is a big one and needs big thinking not casual pandering to xenophobia.