The government has admitted that crucial sectors of the UK economy are woefully short of staff (without of course taking any blame). From hospitality to hospitals, from construction sites to care, many sectors don’t have enough money to hire the workers they need. And even if they had, the UK lacks the people to fill the roles.
Government is very keen that everyone should work, presumably to minimise public expenditure and generate value. It lauds self-employment and start-ups, fantasising a ‘Silicon UK’ full of investment and employment opportunities. It insists on job-seeking for anyone claiming support. This view, coming from a tribe whose wealth makes work unnecessary for themselves, is further defined by a reluctance to advocate generous wages on the part of employers.
It is ironic that the very richest have no need to work, yet demand that others do, including some whose disabilities or family responsibilities make it impossible. But if work is a government priority, why are thousands of able-bodied adults, asylum seekers prohibited from joining the workforce, by the very same government?
Immigration was once encouraged
In order to boost the workforce, after the Second World War, the government encouraged the Windrush immigration from Jamaica. Later, millions of workers from across Europe’s Single Market came to this country to take up roles that employers could not fill with British citizens.
Then, just over 50 years ago, some 40,000 people of Asian origin arrived here to be resettled after being thrown out of Uganda. Many were business-owners who lost everything. But once in the UK, they set about building new businesses and lives here. Work was their means of integration as well as of economic security.
Since 2016, thousands of refugees from conflicts or political intolerance in Iran, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Ukraine have been resettled here to build new, safer lives. Many came equipped with skills of value to the economy, which they have been encouraged, as official refugees, to use. Many have shown energy, initiative, resilience and willingness to become valued parts of the workforce.
Not allowed to work. Why?
Perversely, others arriving from these and other countries cannot emulate these precedents. Asylum seekers arriving outside government schemes – ‘Stop the Small Boats’ they say – are expressly prevented from following this path.
Most want to work, to live in communities, celebrating the freedoms they have been unable to enjoy in their homelands. Yet so unwelcome are they that they are not allowed to work, to earn their own living, to make a contribution, no matter what skills or energy they bring us.
Instead, they are detained in substandard hotels – or, a small number, on board the Bibby Stockholm barge docked in Dorset – until eventually “processed” with miniscule pocket money, until their fate is decided.
Treated as scroungers
Asylum seekers, often desperate but with great initiative, are treated as unwelcome scroungers and have stupid sums devoted to housing or deporting them by a government which preaches the virtues of work and financial responsibility.
Imagine what value would be generated were thousands of asylum seekers allowed to work, pay their way and pay tax. Instead of being a problem statistic, they would be contributors like other incomers over the decades.
So why does this government not take a leaf out of the book of their own Edward Heath, who as prime minister in 1972 enabled those immigrants from Uganda to benefit this country, socially and economically; immigrants like the family of another Tory immigration hardliner, former Home Secretary Priti Patel.
The refugees so demonised by this government are not allowed to work or earn a living. Their case is unheard for months but they are confined to detention centres or camps to waste their days idle and destitute. Statistics show that three quarters of asylum claims are initially successful and refusals often overturned on appeal.
For some there is the possibility of deportation to distant lands like Rwanda or the Ascension Islands. While this country desperately needs workers.
This is not just inhumanity but national self-harm.