The Institute of Directors (IoD) have been busy of late. Earlier last week Simon Walker, the Director General, argued in a debate that London needed more immigration. Later in the week, Mr Walker described a speech made by James Brokenshire, the Minister of State for Immigration, as ‘feeble and pathetic’. (See here)
Mr Brokenshire’s crime? He suggesting that mass immigration puts pressure on social cohesion, public services and infrastructure as well as putting downward pressure on the wages of those at the bottom end of the labour market and displacing local workers. (Read the full speech here)
The IoD went on to say that the UK ‘will not become more prosperous by closing our borders to talented individuals and entrepreneurs from across the world.’ But, of course, no one is suggesting that we close the borders. The IoD is one of the many organisations that wish to paint immigration policy as an all or nothing decision, immigration or closed borders. The reality is that this issue is about scale and the public are deeply unhappy with the present scale of immigration.
The other inconvenient reality is that there is nothing currently stopping skilled workers from entering the UK if they have a job. There are 20,000 work permits available for employers to bring in the staff that they need yet only half have ever been taken up. UK companies can bring in overseas staff in unlimited numbers and the government have set up special routes for entrepreneurs and investors to move here. In short, the UK is fully open for business.
What the IoD seem to misunderstand is that the UK is not just an economic unit, to be measured by GDP figures and growth. The UK is also a society, made up of communities of individuals with jobs, families and bills to pay. Decisions made by the government impact on the everyday lives of these people. So when the IoD says that we should encourage more immigration to London and the UK the rest of us worry about the impact on real lives: the people who will see their already low wages depressed further, the people who will lose out in the labour market, the people who have to compete for already scarce public resources such as social housing.
The IoD seems to care very little about society. Rather than welcoming constant and significant flows of migrants (read, cheap workers) they should perhaps be encouraging businesses to get local young people into entry level jobs, and developing apprenticeships for the locals. Businesses are as much a part of society as workers are – they both need each other to function and some businesses and the IoD seem to have forgotten this.