The Moral Consequence of Relying on Low-Paid Migration

To the bemusement of most on the ‘remain’ side of the Brexit debacle, overall immigration to the UK is said to be at its highest in the past 15 years.

As many as 379,000 people moved to the UK from beyond ‘Fortress Europe’ in the last 12 months preceding September 2019 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This alone is said to be a new achievement for the UK as similar figures haven’t ever been seen before since records began in 1975.

Non-EU net migration is further at its highest level since 2004 as 642,000 are said to have moved to the UK compared to only 402,000 who left. This brings the total net migration to a “broadly stable” level of 240,000.

However, the figures aren’t quite cause for celebration yet as the UK’s most stringent immigration plan is set to come in by the end of the year, vastly evaporating access to low-skilled (or rather low-paid) talent pools that many British industries and businesses rely on. The main chokehold of the rules lie in the General Work Visa salary requirement of £25,600.

zero-hours contracts in low-paid work
The socialist agenda is to implement real, workers rights, starting with a living wage and an end to so-called zero-hours contracts. [Image: Corbis/The Independent].

The deep-seated irony of Brexit here is that while the Home Office goes to great lengths to suggest it is curbing lower-skilled workers, it actually means lower-paid. What this translates to is that while the Government restricts low-income migration, it simultaneously throws the gates wide open to those considered the most talented, skilled and well-paid. Yet there are numerous – and conflicting – arguments to be made on both sides of the coin here.

While the Government restricts low-income migration, it simultaneously throws the gates wide open to those considered the most talented, skilled and well-paid

On the one hand, if the Government was actually serious about ‘training up’ its own homegrown offspring, it wouldn’t then be offering the best-of-the-best jobs to external talent. But similarly, is it ethical to poach the ‘best and brightest’ talent on the cheap from regions that need them more than we do? Nurses, for example, are in short supply in the corners of the world that the UK actively recruits them from.

agriculture is low-paid
Agriculture is one industry that overwhelmingly relies on low-paid migration. [Image: PA/The Independent].

In the new plan, the Home Office is expecting Britons to pick up the slack in sectors that are reliant on zero-hour contracts, minimum wage and that lack in resources while overseas talent, trained up abroad, can climb to the top.

However, the flipside to this argument is ethically retrogressive. It is surely the pillars of anti-progressive State to expect workers who are too poor to refuse to come and work in demeaning, degrading, back-breaking and low-paid work that most Brits turn their noses up at. The solution to the UK’s hotbed of inequalities should not fall onto the shoulders of migrant volunteers and workers who, in accordance with the currently callous immigration system, have to abandon their families at home in order to do so. Their survival (and loved ones’ survival) should not depend on what menial and pittance work the UK has to offer them.

It is surely the pillars of anti-progressive State to expect workers who are too poor to refuse to come and work in demeaning, degrading, back-breaking and low-paid work

And yet mourning the loss of cheap labour broadly sums up the snobbish attitudes of most of the UK, seeing migrant labourers as second-class citizens undeserving of ‘real work’ which must be reserved for the English. Is this not the self-same middle-class elitism that sees couples travel across land and sea on an exotic adventure to rent an impoverished woman’s womb for 9 months? For how long have Britons expected those less fortunate and on the lowest rungs of the class system and paygrade to do the ‘dirty work’ for a fraction of the price?

Perhaps it is time we collectively pull our socks up and swallow our pride. Invest in patriotism, so they say, by fuelling investment into our farms, food and beloved healthcare. If UK recruiters need the work so desperately and it cannot fill positions domestically, then shouldn’t it be paying an actual, living wage? A living wage suitable for both homegrown talent and for those making the voyage across the pond?

Maybe Brexit might just turn out to be the real change the UK needs. [Image: Banksy/Get Wall Papers.]

Of course, it’s not as simple as this, and some argue stifling low-paid migration won’t impact domestic wages. But still, it cannot be that in the face of a cliff-edge, UK businesses and sectors harpoon the financially destitute from far away lands instead of investing and pragmatically improving conditions for workers.

The solution to the UK’s hotbed of inequalities should not fall onto the shoulders of migrant volunteers and workers

Despite popular belief, the immigration plan does actually have the potential to progress the UK forward – if executed properly. Clearly, migration isn’t coming to a standstill anytime soon, so productivity and prosperity should continue even if EU migration continues to drop. The proposed salary requirement of £25,600 is still a vast improvement from the current £30,000 expectation and the removal of the skilled workers’ cap and a fast-track route for NHS staff are all serious welcome changes.

Undoubtedly, there is still significant room for improvement. Care work, for example, is still very much at the heart of the problem for the UK with no leg up whatsoever for these invaluable workers through the immigration rules. Again though, this comes down to salary since care workers on average earn £16,000 in the UK. A ‘Care Work’ visa might do the trick, but improved wages and quadrupled budget efforts would be the best plan of action.

However, maybe it’s about time the UK stopped relying on those from the most deprived areas to put food on our tables; maybe Free Movement has granted unscrupulous employers an amnesty to stifle workers rights and wages for too long. Perhaps the end of frictionless mobility, as bitter a pill it is to swallow, is actually long overdue.

For how long have Britons expected those less fortunate and on the lowest rungs of the class system and paygrade to do the ‘dirty work’ for a fraction of the price?

Of course, the Home Office doesn’t quite interpret the immigration plan this way: it wants a total bottleneck system, clamping down on migration for its own populist, political agenda – no matter the cost. But perhaps Brits can take solace in the singular silver-lining of it all: that perhaps the plan may require more graft on our end, but at least it safeguards the rights of those most vulnerable from overseas from exploitation and menial low-paid work in our country.

Written by
Olivia Bridge
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