Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May's pledge to lower immigration is unachievable and unhinged

The only good thing about the pledge is that it can't be kept. 

For the last six years, the Conservative government has been trying and failing to do the following things: lower Britain’s productivity still further, accelerate the burden placed on the public purse by our ageing population, increase the skills deficit, and pull the economy into recession.

But don’t worry: they are going to keep trying to do all those things for the next five years.

That’s the mystifying truth behind Theresa May’s pledge to get net immigration to Britain down to the “tens of thousands”. There are two big problems with it. The first is that the government is incapable of achieving it. Even if you factor out the immigration to Britain from the European Union, which the government cannot control while we remain part of the single market and the free movement of people, close to half of the immigration to Britain comes from outside the European Union - that is, the government already agrees to let in around 160,000 people to the United Kingdom. 

Why? For the same reason that similar numbers of people will come to Britain from the EU even after we leave the EU. If the government were to achieve its target, the consequences would have been pretty terrible for everyone living in the United Kingdom. 

What is often forgotten when we talk about the need for immigrants to keep the British economy ticking over is that this isn’t because “they work for less”, “they don’t know their rights”, and other clichés about foreign workers that have become increasingly prevalent in public debate. There are many reasons why care workers should be paid more, but no matter how desirable you make social care as a profession, we simply don’t produce enough young people to take care of our elderly people.

Nor can this be solved simply by people “looking after their own parents”. Even if you forget the large number of people who do not have children, many will be unable to do so for financial or physical reasons.  The average first-time mother in the United Kingdom is 28.5 years old.  The average child born in modern Britain will live to be around 100. Any model of elderly care based around the idea that sixty-somethings will have the ability, let alone the inclination, to care for their eighty-something parents is doomed to fail.

Away from our ageing population, Britain is already at full employment when you factor in people who are out of work due to illness or caregiving responsibilities. You can’t fill Britain’s existing job vacancies without maintaining the current level of immigration.

So the only way to hit the target would be to hammer the economy and condemn the nation’s elderly to age in misery. And yet it’s in the Conservative manifesto to do just that.   

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Show Hide image

Universal Credit takes £3,700 from single working parents - it's time to call a halt

The shadow work and pensions secretary on the latest analysis of a controversial benefit. 

Labour is calling for the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) to be halted as new data shows that while wages are failing to keep up with inflation, cuts to in-work social security support have meant most net incomes have flat-lined in real terms and in some cases worsened, with women and people from ethnic minority communities most likely to be worst affected.

Analysis I commissioned from the House of Commons Library shows that real wages are stagnating and in-work support is contracting for both private and public sector workers. 

Private sector workers like Kellie, a cleaner at Manchester airport, who is married and has a four year old daughter. She told me how by going back to work after the birth of her daughter resulted in her losing in-work tax credits, which made her day-to-day living costs even more difficult to handle. 

Her child tax credits fail to even cover food or pack lunches for her daughter and as a result she has to survive on a very tight weekly budget just to ensure her daughter can eat properly. 

This is the everyday reality for too many people in communities across the UK. People like Kellie who have to make difficult and stressful choices that are having lasting implications on the whole family. 

Eventually Kellie will be transferred onto UC. She told me how she is dreading the transition onto UC, as she is barely managing to get by on tax credits. The stories she hears about having to wait up to 10 weeks before you receive payment and the failure of payments to match tax credits are causing her real concern.

UC is meant to streamline social security support,  and bring together payments for several benefits including tax credits and housing benefit. But it has been plagued by problems in the areas it has been trialled, not least because of the fact claimants must wait six weeks before the first payment. An increased use of food banks has been observed, along with debt, rent arrears, and even homelessness.

The latest evidence came from Citizens Advice in July. The charity surveyed 800 people who sought help with universal credit in pilot areas, and found that 39 per cent were waiting more than six weeks to receive their first payment and 57 per cent were having to borrow money to get by during that time.

Our analysis confirms Universal Credit is just not fit for purpose. It looks at different types of households and income groups, all working full time. It shows single parents with dependent children are hit particularly hard, receiving up to £3,100 a year less than they received with tax credits - a massive hit on any family budget.

A single teacher with two children working full time, for example, who is a new claimant to UC will, in real terms, be around £3,700 a year worse off in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12.

Or take a single parent of two who is working in the NHS on full-time average earnings for the public sector, and is a new tax credit claimant. They will be more than £2,000 a year worse off in real-terms in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12. 

Equality analysis published in response to a Freedom of Information request also revealed that predicted cuts to Universal Credit work allowances introduced in 2016 would fall most heavily on women and ethnic minorities. And yet the government still went ahead with them.

It is shocking that most people on low and middle incomes are no better off than they were five years ago, and in some cases they are worse off. The government’s cuts to in-work support of both tax credits and Universal Credit are having a dramatic, long lasting effect on people’s lives, on top of stagnating wages and rising prices. 

It’s no wonder we are seeing record levels of in-work poverty. This now stands at a shocking 7.4 million people.

Our analyses make clear that the government’s abject failure on living standards will get dramatically worse if UC is rolled out in its current form.

This exactly why I am calling for the roll out to be stopped while urgent reform and redesign of UC is undertaken. In its current form UC is not fit for purpose. We need to ensure that work always pays and that hardworking families are properly supported. 

Labour will transform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment, and creating a fair society for the many, not the few. 

Debbie Abrahams is shadow work and pensions secretary.