The following column appeared in this week’s Barnsley Independent.
Figures released last week show that net migration has climbed to 260,000, an increase of 78,000 on the previous year. Net migration is calculated by taking away the number of people leaving the country from the number coming in and it is it is now 16,000 higher than it was when the Coalition Government was formed in 2010. At the same time, fewer people are being stopped at our borders, more people are absconding and fewer foreign criminals are being deported.
The truth is David Cameron has failed on immigration. In his first year as Prime Minister, Cameron promised “no ifs, no buts” that he would reduce the net annual migration rate from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. Yet last week, Theresa May was finally forced to admit their target is “unlikely” to be met – another broken promise from this Tory-led Government.
We all know that immigration is important to the UK economy, and things like our universities and NHS have benefited from those who have come here from abroad, but it must be controlled and managed so that the system is fair. We know that uncontrolled and unfair immigration is a big problem in many parts of Britain.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper has been clear: we must have stronger border controls to deal with illegal immigration. A future Labour Government will ensure that when people cross our borders they are counted in and out, so we know who is here, who has gone home and who has stayed. At the same time, we will re-instate fingerprinting of illegal migrants at Calais and introduce US-style visa reforms to fund 1,000 more border and enforcement staff.
But strengthening our borders alone isn’t enough. It is far too easy for employers in Britain to undercut the wages and working conditions of our own workers at home by recruiting temporary employees from elsewhere in Europe on very low-pay and with no job security. Which is why Labour has said that we will introduce tough new laws to stop this – enforcing the minimum wage, making exploitation a crime and stopping agencies who only recruit foreign workers.
We will also require every firm hiring a migrant worker from outside the EU to offer an apprenticeship in return, to help ensure that young people are given the opportunities and training they need and so that we can plug the skills gaps in our economy by training up our own people.
Another big change we need is about access to benefits. Entitlement to benefits should be earned. Under the current Government’s rules, it is possible for citizens of other European countries to come to Britain without a job offer and start signing on after just three months. As Rachel Reeves announced, a future Labour will extend this period from three months to two years. On top of this, we will end the absurdity of child benefit and child tax credits being claimed for children living in other countries.
Let’s be straight with people: Labour got things wrong on immigration in the past, which is why Ed Miliband is right to have changed our policies, got us back in touch with our own communities and set out this tough new approach. We want to build a country that works for working people, with big changes to our economy to make work pay.
And we also want to ensure that our immigration system is tough and is built on the British values of fairness and contribution. I think that’s what people in Barnsley want to see too.