Migrants check a lorry heading to the UK in the port of Calais, 24 September. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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

Show Hide image

Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital