Migrants check a lorry heading to the UK in the port of Calais, 24 September. Photo: Getty
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As an MEP, I’m ashamed of our government's stance on immigration

The government’s stance on immigration is a source of much shame for many MEPs in Europe.

The governments stance on immigration is a source of much shame for me in Europe. By falling into the UKIP trap of scapegoating immigrants for Europe's economic problems, Prime Minister David Cameron is sending out all the wrong messages about Britain. We must counteract this by talking up the reality which is that being in the EU brings massive benefits for everyone, including immigration.

I do not disagree with this week's New Statesman editorial that, “it would be foolish to deny that immigration from within the European Union and outside it brings pressures” and that “it would be foolish, too, to deny that there are abuses of the immigration system”. However, it cannot be assumed that immigrants are responsible for our faltering economy and for pressures on housing, jobs, schools, etc.

Take housing for example. I've lost count of the amount of times I've heard parents blaming immigrants for their sons and daughters having no chance of getting onto the property ladder. The fact is that we're in the worst housing crisis Britain has ever seen – and it wasn't immigrants that caused it. Politicians failed us when selling off all of our council housing, by not building enough new houses and by refusing to intervene in a housing market where houses are shuffled around as financial assets instead of providing homes for people in need. Furthermore it wasn't migrants who caused the financial crisis we've just been through – that was the bankers. 

Too often on immigration, people are forced to defend and react to scare stories so I feel that it's time to start setting the agenda. Immigration is great and we shouldn't be afraid to say it. The UK is a remarkable place because of the fact there is so much diversity in culture on display. Additionally, without migrants some of our most treasured public services such as the NHS would soon fall apart.

But what about them taking jobs away from English-born people? This is a misguided concern which has managed to make it's way right to the top of the political agenda. The answer is that there isn't actually any real evidence to suggest that migrants take jobs away from people who were born here. Writing in the Guardian, Jonathon Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, pointed out that a recent government summary of the evidence concluded there was, “little evidence in the literature of a statistically significant impact from EU migration on native employment outcomes”.

Nor do migrants seem to push down wages. “Because immigrants earn money, spend money, set up businesses and so on, it also increases the demand for labour.” Therefore, increased wages will have to come from government – which is why my party are calling for a £10 minimum wage by 2020, in comparison to Ed Miliband's timid call for £8 by 2020.

Freedom of movement is a massive benefit of being in the EU which is open for everyone to enjoy. Can you imagine the fuss that would be caused if as part of a revised relationship with the EU, people were told they could no longer take their annual summer holiday in France? For me, hopping across the border with my fellow UK MEPs for work at the European Parliament in Brussels is a great experience and opportunity which I would not want to lose out on. I'm sure British people living permanently in other countries would tell you the same thing. 

The departing President of the European Commission Jose Manual Barroso was right to warn us over the weekend of the potential illegality of capping migrant numbers and why leaving the EU will not work in our favour. The challenge for everyone else now is to not shy away from talking up the benefits of immigration and of the wider EU project. Of course some reform of the EU is needed, like for a start stopping TTIP  but keeping freedom of movement is a no-brainer.

Keith Taylor is the Green MEP for South East England

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.