Speaking on the Today programme this morning in advance of tonight’s BBC2 documentary, The Truth about Immigration, UKIP leader Nigel Farage made a statement that many readers of Blue & Green Tomorrow would agree with: “There are more important things than money.”
The Truth about Immigration is a BBC2 investigation (9.30pm tonight) into the social and economic changes triggered by unprecedented immigration, and politicians’ action to get on the right side of public opinion. In tonight’s programme, the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson challenges home secretary Theresa May, her shadow Yvette Cooper, business secretary Vince Cable and UKIP leader Nigel Farage on their competing plans to cut immigration and the feasibility of those plans.
We’ll review the programme tomorrow, but what surprised us today was the quasi-sustainability perspective of UKIP’s avowedly free market leader. People are more important than profit. We spluttered into our coffees.
In the Today interview, Farage made the point that community harmony was more important than being slightly richer from more immigration. This is a radical departure from the more classic free market view that unfettered markets and globalisation are the only solution to all social problems.
Housing shortages and our health and education systems being under strain are not the fault of immigrants. The decision not to allow local authorities to build new social housing, radically reforming the health service at great cost during unprecedented budget cuts and not building enough schools during a baby boom, are the principle contributors to these problems. We have unremarkable politicians making short-term political decisions in the face of long-term, remarkable strategic conditions.
Uncontrolled immigration can clearly cause community cohesion problems. It is often the young or lowest paid whose jobs are displaced by unskilled and some skilled immigrants and they naturally resent this. Companies and agencies are willing to weaken and undercut their own workforce with cheaper imported labour.
Again, this is not the fault of the immigrant workers, who have a right to move across the EU and naturally want to better their lot. Critically, the right extends to ‘workers’, i.e. those who have a job.
At fault are the rules of European organisation we are part of (change the rules), our own lax attitude to monitoring immigration in the past and managing our borders (don’t cut the border agency’s budget) and the willingness of companies to flout the laughable minimum wage (enforce a living wage). It is our political and corporate leadership who have created this problem.
The story is familiar. We face massive global issues that require real political, corporate and media leadership. One of them is increased economic migration. Instead of tackling those issues sensibly and collaboratively with other nations, once again, those with the most power and wealth choose to attack those with the least, the disabled, those on benefits, the young, the poor and those seeking better lives for themselves.
The seventh largest economy in the world has more than enough money to cope with more immigration. With a rising dependent population of children and pension age people we actually need it. Short of the Swiftian approach of eating the young and old, we need more people of working age to support those not working. Our health service, upon which the young and old are the most dependent, is held together by immigrant doctors and nurses.
While the figures are hotly contested, there is significant evidence that immigrants are net contributors to the UK economy through taxation. In addition, unviable hospitals and schools have remained open due to the influx of new patients and pupils from overseas. While this sounds counter intuitive, it remains a fact. We also benefit from the free movement of workers, with many UK citizens working across Europe with economically inactive pensioners settling in warmer Mediterranean climates.
Do we have enough space? We are the 51st most densely populated country in the world (out of 244 sovereign states and dependent territories). Probably not in our existing cities, but we know we need new towns. The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit has advised parliament that up to 290,500 additional homes may be needed each year between now and 2031. That’s a city the size of Derby every year for 17 years.
We don’t have enough working age people in the UK to support our dependent population, nor do we have enough homes for those that we actually need. Closing the gate and pulling up the drawbridge will not solve these problems. Open the gates with well-paid, motivated guards to count people in and out and build a lot more (ideally sustainable) houses.
Immigration may be UKIP’s particular bugbear, but if the argument can be made that there are more important things than money, then the argument must hold for other areas that impinge on community harmony. We would spread the net wider than simply controlling immigration and the unpleasant side effect of demonising immigrants.
Allowing social mobility to grind to a halt and go into reverse.
Allowing tax evasion and extreme tax avoidance to become the norm, far outstripping any benefit cheating or additional and debatable costs from immigration.
Allowing companies to exploit consumer inertia and lack of technical knowledge to maximise profits at the individual’s expense.
Allowing companies to degrade the environment, causing a cornucopia of health and environmental problems.
Allowing our financial sector to mis-sell, fiddle rates, money launder for drug barons and overwhelmingly invest in companies that harm our people and our planet globally.
These are the things that really harm community harmony. Far more than immigration.
Our economy and the profit it generates should not harm humans or our planet. While immigration is the preferred and lazy front page of the tabloid press, there are far, far greater issues to address. Our society and environment are more important than the pursuit of more money.
To bastardise Robert F Kennedy’s speech at the University of Kansas in March 1968, money “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Yes, Mr Farage, there are so many, many more important things than money.