Brown is right to challenge immigration hysteria

The Tories' plan for an annual limit remains unworkable.

It was a relief to hear Gordon Brown declare in his speech about immigration that he would not allow people to "scaremonger" on the subject.

The Prime Minister rightly pointed to figures showing that net migration has fallen significantly since 2007. As the graph below shows, net migration fell from 233,000 in 2007 to 163,000 in 2008.

Official figures for 2009 have not been published, but early indications suggest that there has been a further fall to 147,000. The recession prompted many east European migrants to return home and the overall number migrating from Britain has reached a 17-year high of more than 400,000.

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Despite this trend, the Tories remain committed to their absurd plan to place an annual limit on immigration. David Cameron has promised to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands" per year, a level not seen since the days of the Major government. But as Brown rightly argued, this populist policy is "arbitrary and unworkable".

For a start, Cameron cannot limit immigration from within the European Union without restricting the free movement of labour and throwing the UK's continued membership into doubt. His policy also ignores the 39,000 people who come to the UK on spousal visas after marrying British citizens abroad.

No party can afford not to make immigration a central issue at the election. A recent YouGov poll of 57 marginal seats found that only the economy matters more to voters in these areas.

The poll also found that 44 per cent of respondents in Labour-held marginals would be more likely (23 per cent much more likely) to vote Tory if Cameron pledged to reduce net migration to 50,000 a year.

But if Labour exposes Cameron's pledge for the hollow promise that it is, it need not lose any votes over the subject.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Grenfell survivors were promised no rent rises – so why have the authorities gone quiet?

The council now says it’s up to the government to match rent and services levels.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster, the government made a pledge that survivors would be rehoused permanently on the same rent they were paying previously.

For families who were left with nothing after the fire, knowing that no one would be financially worse off after being rehoused would have provided a glimmer of hope for a stable future.

And this is a commitment that we’ve heard time and again. Just last week, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) reaffirmed in a statement, that the former tenants “will pay no more in rent and service charges for their permanent social housing than they were paying before”.

But less than six weeks since the tragedy struck, Kensington and Chelsea Council has made it perfectly clear that responsibility for honouring this lies solely with DCLG.

When it recently published its proposed policy for allocating permanent housing to survivors, the council washed its hands of the promise, saying that it’s up to the government to match rent and services levels:

“These commitments fall within the remit of the Government rather than the Council... It is anticipated that the Department for Communities and Local Government will make a public statement about commitments that fall within its remit, and provide details of the period of time over which any such commitments will apply.”

And the final version of the policy waters down the promise even further by downplaying the government’s promise to match rents on a permanent basis, while still making clear it’s nothing to do with the council:

It is anticipated that DCLG will make a public statement about its commitment to meeting the rent and/or service charge liabilities of households rehoused under this policy, including details of the period of time over which any such commitment will apply. Therefore, such commitments fall outside the remit of this policy.”

It seems Kensington and Chelsea council intends to do nothing itself to alter the rents of long-term homes on which survivors will soon be able to bid.

But if the council won’t take responsibility, how much power does central government actually have to do this? Beyond a statement of intent, it has said very little on how it can or will intervene. This could leave Grenfell survivors without any reassurance that they won’t be worse off than they were before the fire.

As the survivors begin to bid for permanent homes, it is vital they are aware of any financial commitments they are making – or families could find themselves signing up to permanent tenancies without knowing if they will be able to afford them after the 12 months they get rent free.

Strangely, the council’s public Q&A to residents on rehousing is more optimistic. It says that the government has confirmed that rents and service charges will be no greater than residents were paying at Grenfell Walk – but is still silent on the ambiguity as to how this will be achieved.

Urgent clarification is needed from the government on how it plans to make good on its promise to protect the people of Grenfell Tower from financial hardship and further heartache down the line.

Kate Webb is head of policy at the housing charity Shelter. Follow her @KateBWebb.