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Two in three EU nationals may leave the UK. We should be worried

The number of EU applicants for highly-skilled positions has slumped too. 

In Florence, on 22 September, the Prime Minister told EU nationals living in the UK that “it has been, and remains, one of my first goals in this negotiation to ensure that you can carry on living your lives as before”. In doing so, she acknowledged that continuing uncertainty “has been a cause of great worry and anxiety”.

Seven weeks on, and with nothing yet agreed, the mood is changing. A new Prospect poll of more than 600 EU nationals finds a strong sense of anger, alienation and fear. Respondents to our survey spoke about “being caught in a Kafkaesque bureaucracy”, feeling “betrayed and unwanted”, and “becoming a foreigner in a country that needed my skills 16 years ago and welcomed me with open arms”.

Nearly eight in ten of our respondents feel less welcome in the UK and two thirds are now considering leaving - a prospect that should worry us all. Many operate in international labour and product markets, and make a crucial contribution to the success of the organisations they work for and in turn to the UK as a whole.

There is a damaging mismatch between political timetables and impact on the ground. Our respondents are concerned about a reduced pool of good candidates for highly-skilled positions due to a dramatic reduction in applications from EU candidates. Others talk about EU funding streams already drying up, downgrading of the role of research groups as well as being “uninvited” from participation altogether.

Our feedback shows that the government is squandering the UK’s reputation as an attractive place for foreign talent. It also highlights a fundamental misunderstanding of the modern work environment in which skilled and specialist workers can choose where to live and work, but they do not do so in isolation.

For example, scientific success depends on teams comprising a diversity of roles including technicians, students and support staff who often undertake highly specialised but not highly paid work. Around two thirds of archaeological businesses currently employ non-UK EU staff whose contribution is crucial to smooth operation of the supply chain for house-building and major infrastructure projects. In the world of media and entertainment, countries with more open migration policies will begin to build capacity in lucrative activities, such as high-end computer graphics for film and TV.

We are told that the government’s position will be set out in an immigration white paper, though timing seems increasingly uncertain. In preparation, the Migration Advisory Committee has been asked consider how, in the light of Brexit, the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy.

Our view is very clear: the UK’s future approach must not just be about erecting barriers to free movement, but about ensuring continued access to the skills needed for economic success and the public good. In sectors like those our members work in, these judgements are most appropriately made by employers through their established HR practices.

Options such as expanding the shortage occupation list or extending the salary thresholds that currently apply to workers from outside the UK will not work well. These systems that wrongly equate academic qualification with skill level and skill level with pay. Roughly four in ten of respondents to our survey earn less than £30,000 annually and would therefore not be able to work in the UK if the government simply applied immigration rules for the rest of the world to EU nationals. This is consistent with official data showing that this rule would catch out more than 70 per cent of archivists, curators and other culture and media occupations, more than 60 per cent of science, engineering and technology associate professionals, and just under half of veterinarians.

To imagine the UK devoid of all this talent is to understand the seriousness of our concerns about the real implications of Brexit.

Sue Ferns is deputy general secretary of Prospect union and a member of the TUC General Council. She tweets at @fernssue.

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People are not prepared to see innovation at any price - we need to take care of our digital health

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

As individuals, we have never been better connected. As a society, we are being driven further apart.

Doteveryone’s People Power and Technology report, released this week, found that half of the 2,500 British people we surveyed said the internet had made life a lot better for people like them - but only 12 per cent saw a very positive impact on society.

These findings won’t be news to most people living in Brexit Britain - or to anyone who’s been involved in a spat on Twitter. The fact that we’re constantly connected to our smartphones has not necessarily improved our communities or our understanding of one other, and the trails of data we’re leaving behind are not turning into closer social bonds.

Many of the positives we experience are for ourselves as individuals.

Lots of consumer tech puts simple self-sufficiency first - one-click to buy, swipe right to date - giving us a feeling of cosy isolation and making one little phone an everywhere. This powerful individualism is a feature of all of the big platforms - and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are meant bring us together, do so in the context of personalised recommendations and algorithmically ordered timelines.

We are all the centre of our own digital worlds. So it is no surprise that when we do look up from our phones, we feel concerned about the impact on society. Our research findings articulate the dilemma we face: do we do the thing that is easiest for us, or the one that is better for society?

For instance, 78 per cent of people see the Internet as helping us to communicate better, but 68 per cent also feel it makes us less likely to speak to each other face-to-face. 69per cent think the internet helps businesses to sell their products and services, while 53 per cent think it forces local shops to compete against larger companies online.

It’s often hard to see the causality in these trade-offs. At what point does my online shopping tip my high street into decline? When do I notice that I’ve joined another WhatsApp group but haven’t said hello to my neighbour?

When given clear choices, the public was clear in its response.  

We asked how they would feel if an online retailer offered free one-day delivery for lower income families, but this resulted in local shops closing down - 69 per cent found this unacceptable. Or if their bank invested more in combating fraud and cyber crime, but closed their local branch - 61 per cent said it was unacceptable. Or if their council made savings by putting services online and cut council tax as a result, but some people would find it hard to access these services - 56 per cent found it unacceptable.

It seems people are not prepared to see innovation at any price - and not at the expense of their local communities. The poorest find these trade offs least acceptable.

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

A clearer regulatory environment would support positive, responsible change that supports our society, not just the ambition of a few corporations.

Some clarity about our relationship with web services would be a good start. 60 per cent of people Doteveryone spoke to believed there should be an independent body they can turn to when things go wrong online; 89 per cent would like terms and conditions to be clearer, and 47% feel they have no choice but to sign up to services, even when they have concerns.

Technology regulation is complicated and fragmentary. Ofcom and the under-resourced Information Commissioner’s Office, provide some answers,but they are not sufficient to regulate the myriad effects of social media, let alone the changes that new technologies like self-driving cars will bring. There needs to be a revolution in government, but at present as consumers and citizens we can’t advocate for that. We need a body that represents us, listens to our concern and gives us a voice.

And the British public also needs to feel empowered, so we can all make better choices - adults and children alike need different kinds of understanding and capability to navigate the digital world. It is not about being able to code: it is about being able to cope.

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and well-being, and reduce health inequalities. Perhaps we need a digital equivalent, to protect and improve our digital health and well-being, and reduce digital inequalities.

As a society, we should not have to continually respond and adapt to the demands of the big corporations: we should also make demands of them - and we need confidence, a voice, and representation to begin to do that.

Rachel Coldicutt is chief executive of Doteveryone.