Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Lib Dems won't knife Nick Clegg – well, not quite yet anyway (Observer)

The misjudgments they have made in office have not been the leader's alone – as Vince Cable surely knows, writes Andrew Rawnsley.

2. The rich are doing their bit. Are you? (Sunday Times) (£)

Voters must be educated about the fact that there really are costs to the benefits they receive, says Dominic Lawson.

3. Dogged and decent, Chris Grayling shows how to get reform right (Sunday Telegraph)

The Paralympics should inspire politicians to continue the fight for a fairer benefits system, writes Matthew D'Ancona.

4. Our schools are being undermined by a constant rhetoric of decline (Observer)

We should stop running down the manifest improvements in the country's education system, argues Matthew Taylor.

5. Dirty ads and debate can still win it for Mitt (Sunday Times) (£)

Romney should not be underestimated, warns Andrew Sullivan.

6. We'll go down as the nation that smoked itself stupid (Mail on Sunday)

I can't fathom the double standards over cannabis, says Peter Hitchens.

7. It's thrilling to see science take centre stage in the national conversation (Observer)

To witness Stephen Hawking at the Paralympics is to be reminded of Britain's pre-eminent scientific status, says Paul Nurse.

8. We should tune in to the Romney and Ryan show (Sunday Telegraph)

The myth of a democratic socialist society funded by capitalism is finished, argues Janet Daley.

9. Stop huffing — we all called for this crackdown on immigration (Sunday Times) (£)

The economic benefits of foreign students to Britain are highly debatable, insists Minette Marrin.

10. The Chinese puzzles of chairman Tim Yeo (Sunday Telegraph)

Tim Yeo is urging ministers to assist British firms in doing 'low-carbon' business in China, but has failed to mention that he is chairman of one such firm, writes Christopher Booker.

Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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