(This first appeared in ‘Morning Star’, 15 Oct 2016)
AMBER RUDD went out of her way to present herself as a home secretary very much in the mould of her predecessor when she spoke at the Tory Party conference last week.
“I succeed one of the most successful home secretaries of modern times,” which was her description of Theresa May, who of course has gone on to achieve the giddy heights of Prime Minister.
Many would take issue with this claim. Theresa May will be remembered by many as the home secretary who was responsible for ensuring that Britain remained opted out of any positive role in resolving a crisis of refugee policy that has blighted the reputation of Europe as a humane and compassionate region and has allowed the Mediterranean to become a grave for 3,610 people in this year alone.
Then there is the deplorable situation at Calais. Possibly as many as 10,000 people are languishing in the makeshift refugee camp known as the Jungle — including 1,000 children of whom some 400 are believed to have compelling grounds for resettlement in Britain.
During the six years of May’s stewardship as head of the Home Office, she has been obdurate in her refusal to consider any other role for Britain in tackling this deplorable situation other than pay a share of the hefty bill to cover ever larger areas of the Channel port in barbed wire-topped fencing.
More charges could be levelled which illustrate her failure at the Home Office to support the necessary humanitarian dimension to her government’s immigration policies, including measures on family reunification which massively discriminate against households subsisting on modest incomes; a refusal to permit overseas teachers to settle in the country after five years of work in British classrooms because they receive wages of less than £35,000 a year and a record of wrongfully deporting up to 48,000 international students who were innocently associated with a scam carried out by an English language testing company.
Yet despite the harshness of all these policies, May still failed to by a massive margin to achieve her government’s target of pushing net migration below the 100,000 figure.
At the time she shuffled off to her stint at No 10, statistics showed a surplus of incoming over outgoing migrants of over 330,000 people.
Judging by her speech to the Tory faithful, Rudd seems to have embraced May’s record of severity and failure and is working to add to it with policies which promise even more hardship for people of migrant background.
She outlined measures that continue the recent trend in immigration policies to push controls well beyond the border areas of air and seaports and into workplaces and local communities.
The controversial laws which require landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants are to be ramped up by making prison sentences the penalty for making mistakes about the meaning of someone’s visa conditions.
Campaigners against this measure, led by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, have pointed to evidence that immigration controls of this type produce adverse effects for sections of communities which go far beyond the irregular migrants which the government tells us are the target group.
Very few landlords have the expertise needed to distinguish between an “illegal” and “legal” immigrant and many believe that they are courting the risk of breaking laws whenever they have dealings with people with non-British accents or black and other ethnic minorities.
The result is a large ripple effect across communities which sees obstacles being raised to large numbers of people who landlords feel just might — if not now perhaps some time in the future — fall into the category of an immigrant who has broken rules.
We already know that there are tendencies towards discrimination on grounds of race in the private-rented sector — the policies Rudd is advancing will reinforce this.
Rudd went on to outline plans she has for cutting back on the numbers of international students entering the country each year.
The expansion of higher education in recent times is usually considered to be one of the great success stories of British economic and social policy.
The Oxford University-based Migration Observatory calculates that the contribution that non-EU students make to the sector is in excess of £7 billion a year. Contributing around 13 per cent of the revenue earned by colleges and universities, the fees paid by these young people have supported the expansion of higher education which has benefited British students as well as themselves.
Rudd proposes to jeopardise these significant achievements by cutting back on the numbers of young people coming from abroad to study in Britain. In her speech she sketched out ideas that suggested that universities not considered to be “the best” would not be permitted to admit international students.
While the Oxbridge and elite Russell Group universities would be exempt from this restriction, scores of establishments outside the privileged few would be at risk of losing the proven benefits which come from having a diverse, international student community on campus.
This punitive approach to dealing with organisations and bodies which accept migrants is also to be extended, more deeply than ever, into the workplace. Migrants make up 11 per cent of the UK workforce. Many are employed as the highest levels of the skills spectrum, as doctors, engineers, scientists and technicians.
Others work in sectors like hospitality, food production and processing, and social care, which have operated for decades with business plans that require ultra-flexible working at generally low pay rates.
In the days that followed Rudd’s speech, rumours flowed suggesting that the Home Office would push back against the employment of migrants by requiring employers to report the number of foreign nationals they had on their staff.
The idea was even floated that firms employing a higher than average number of migrants would be “named and shamed” in a drive to force them to change hiring practices.
The subsequent uproar against this suggestion — which extended from trade unions to the Confederation of British Industry — seems to have led to a retreat on this most extreme version of the policy.
What will apparently remain is a requirement on the part of firms to report this data to the Home Office for, it is claimed, confidential use.
Few are convinced that the system will operate in this apparently benign way. The act of reporting staff data itself is likely to generate discriminatory outcomes as employers are obliged to sort their workforces out into categories of “foreigners” and “citizens.” Current work practices which tend to put migrants on agency contracts and while retaining natives on regular work contracts are likely to be reinforced by measures of this kind.
The combined effect of all the measures which Rudd hinted at in her speech will be to reinforce the already worrying divisions which exist in many working-class communities.
The upsurge in xenophobic hate crimes illustrates all the dangers that lie ahead if the government is allowed to continue its manipulation of the policy agenda by dividing people into “us” and “them.”
Working-class communities need unity if they are to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Repudiating Rudd’s divisive intentions will be an essential start to this achieving this solidarity across communities.