Now a lot of people have asked me how Labour should respond to UKIP.
I have thought about it a lot, and I tell you this: I will not cede the issue of immigration to those offering fear or falsehood.
I promise, we will listen to what people tell us on the doorstep. Not just if those people are called Gareth. We do listen. And we do understand. We hear many things that people say about immigration – and about many other things. About poverty. About jobs. About the cost of social security. About the NHS. About housing. And we understand when people seem to make links between immigration and those other things – but we have to be clear about whether those links are true or not. Where they are true, we have to be bold, and strong – but when they are not true, we have to be bold and strong too.
So when people say that they are worried about the NHS, and the strain being put on the NHS by immigration, we will say that we are worried about the NHS too, and that we will do everything we can to make sure the NHS is properly funded. That we have doctors and nurses that are looked after and supported. That we will not allow the NHS to be driven down into despair so that it can be sold off – but we will also be clear that immigrants and immigration is not putting a strain on the NHS: quite the opposite. Immigrants do not come over here to use our health service – they come over here to work in our health service. The contribution made by immigrants as doctors, as nurses, as support staff of all kinds, is critical to the health service. And immigrants use health services less than most people. They’re not a drain on the health service. They support it. Immigration is good for the NHS. What is bad for the NHS is the creeping privatisation – and we’re sorry that we in the Labour Party made the wrong moves in initiating Public Finance Initiatives. We will prevent any future privatisation – and ensure proper funding for the NHS.
And when people say they are worried that about housing, and that immigration is putting a strain on housing, we will say that we are worried about housing too, and will be ensuring that more affordable – and by that we mean genuinely affordable – houses are build. We will look at ways to make the currently dysfunctional housing market work better for everyone – but it needs to be entirely clear that it is the housing market that is the problem, not immigration. It’s not the immigrants but the unscrupulous landlords who cause the problems in the housing market – and we will make sure that tenants have proper protection, and that rents are kept at affordable levels.
And when people tell us that they are worried about the amounts we have to pay for social security, we will say that we understand – and we do – but we will also make it entirely clear that the idea of ‘benefits tourism’ is also a myth. Immigrants do not place a burden on the benefits system any more than they do on the health service. Indeed, they pay more in tax than they receive in benefits. Immigration does not cost money – it contributes, and those who suggest otherwise whilst knowing the real figures are doing so to mislead, to confuse, and to try to make people blame those who are not to blame.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about jobs, and about unemployment. It’s a common suggestion – one made by UKIP at the European elections – that people from Europe are coming here to take your jobs. That to is a damaging and disturbing myth, one often deliberately intended to spread fear and division. Overall, immigration – and immigration from Europe in particular – creates more jobs than it takes. Now unemployment is a problem – and low wages are a problem – but they’re not caused by immigration, and to suggest so is disingenuous at best. We need to be quite clear about that. It is true, however, that particularly at the lower end of the wage scale immigration can put pressure on, and in some particular local areas it can put pressure on – in the short term. We will address this directly – by raising the minimum wage, by enforcing that minimum wage, by clamping down on those manipulative and unscrupulous employers who take advantage of both British and immigrant workers – and by providing a social security system that supports those in need rather than stigmatising them and demonising them.
Now it’s important to understand that there are those who would use immigration as a scapegoat for the problems we face. I could have mentioned education – some suggest, falsely, that immigration puts pressure on our education system – or crime, which is also falsely blamed on immigration. It’s easy to blame immigrants – but it’s wrong, and it’s damaging. It means that the people who are really responsible for these problems – the dodgy landlords, the unscrupulous employers, those who actually caused the financial problems we face – are let off the hook. What’s more, it means we don’t do what is really needed to sort out our problems. We don’t address the dysfunctional housing market. We don’t provide proper funding for our health and education systems. We don’t sort out our social security system in a way that really works – all we do is find people to punish.
For that reason, I won’t be announcing punitive new measures on benefits for immigrants. I won’t be announcing figures to limit immigration. Instead, I’ll be dealing with the real problems, not basing policy on lies.
Because they are lies – and we will fight those lies, because the lies hurt. They hurt immigrants. They hurt you. They create division and damage, foster hatred and ignorance. They hurt the country. They hurt us all.
…but of course he won’t say any of that, because it’s too late. They’ve let the lies go unchallenged for so long that it’s too hard to fight. So instead, on goes the damage, on goes the hatred, and the problems remain unsolved…. and instead they fester, like a sore.