Ms Rudd: limiting immigration is not the answer

I am deeply saddened to read reports of Amber Rudd’s speech at the recent Conservative Party conference.

Throughout our history the UK has benefited from immigrants who fill gaps in the work force and have and continue to enrich our economic and cultural life. In so many ways we would be diminished if we became inward looking and isolationist. Ms Rudd’s ideas about limiting immigrants are plain wrong. There is no question we need workers from abroad now to do less skilled jobs, just as much as we do to address the shortage of medics and engineers.

I think that the UK government is wrong to take the Brexit vote to mean that the majority people in the UK want fewer immigrants. Aside from the fact that nearly half of voters backed Remain, in my opinion, even those you might think are anti-immigration by voting for Brexit, were reflecting completely different issues. Most important of these is the sense, particularly among less well-off and young people in this country, that they have lost the prospect of a reliable livelihood. This manifests as lack of a decent job, of a permanent home (having to re-negotiate home rentals even annually is frustrating and worrying) and concerns over other issues such as redundant skill sets as new technologies develop. None of this is conducive to a settled life.

This problem has developed for quite a number of reasons. However, for me, an important one relates to how we prepare young people in this country for the workplace. A very unfortunate side effect of the Labour policy in the late 1990’s and 2000's to increase the number of university students, was that those who did not want to go to university or were not suited to academia, have been left out in the cold. Because they did not “aspire” to higher education they have become second rate in the collective mind.

After two decades of this, there are some thoroughly disenfranchised young people out there. They have parents and grandparents who are worried too. The answer to this is not to hit out at the so called “obvious” reason — that foreigners are taking jobs, school places and so on — but to give these young people a chance and above all, give them hope. They need to know they will leave school with the opportunity to make a reasonable livelihood and that it is perfectly acceptable if they choose NOT to do that through a university education. They need to know that gaining skills (plumbing, catering, caring, engineering and IT skills, to name a few) which may not be primarily academic and are often gained through the work place or FE colleges, has every bit as much value to the wider community as continuing on to university.

Experience tells us it is perfectly possible to make a successful career without a university degree. It seems to me the world we live in now may actually widen that choice. Nevertheless, the government should facilitate such opportunities by supporting new ways to strengthen links between business and education, as well as continuing to develop policies relating to apprenticeship schemes and so on. They need to empower young people from all backgrounds to aspire to build their own future. More widely, infrastructure provision such as UK wide high quality broadband will help entrepreneurs and small businesses. How often is it hard to find a builder who can deal with a leaking roof in your home? We are desperate for people with these skills in this country and we should recognise them and celebrate their important contribution to our wider economic and social well being.

It is vital that this government does not become sidelined by opinions of the bigoted few and further the “little England” cause. Instead it needs to address the real problem which is about skills, livelihoods and hope.