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Ed Miliband gave a speech today to the ippr where he outlined one plank of Labour’s new approach to immigration. He acknowledged the need to avoid two dangers in relation to immigration – wishing away the public’s concerns and making promises that can’t be kept.

The  main thrust of his speech focused on the ways in which immigration has impacted on the British economy. He acknowledged that it is also important to recognise its impact on access to resources (especially schools and housing) and the fabric of communities, but limited his comments to the economy.

In short, he argued that at the moment we don’t have an economy where everyone – from top to bottom – feels they are part of a shared project. And that some feel the benefits of globalisation and immigration, while others do not. The dividing line is characterised by class. Interesting to hear a Labour leader using the ‘c’ word again.

He outlined two key problems faced by ordinary people. First, labour standards are not being properly enforced so foreign workers can undercut wages. Second, the influx of low-cost, low-skill migrant labour is making many companies take a short-term, low-skill approach which is resulting in less training and development which brings down the value of work.

He calls for four things:

  • Genuinely effective controls on who comes in and out of the country
  • Enforcement of employment laws to ensure fair and minimum wages are observed and that those companies flouting the law are prosecuted and see their maximum fine at least double from £5,000 to £10,000
  • Recruitment agencies refusing to take British nationals onto their books need to be tackled
  • We need to build a more responsible form of capitalism, and institute an early warning system to identify those parts of the country experiencing rapid and profound change who need additional support

It is encouraging to see a political leader join up debates about immigration and the future of the economy. Too often, these discussions focus on issues of community cohesion and measures of ‘getting along’ as if the deeper structural factors of economy, jobs market, housing, and resources do not matter. Or indeed, that they are not important drivers of poor relations on the ground. Interesting also that Miliband brought the ‘c’ word back into politics. Perhaps this is the first sign of Jon Cruddas’ influence at play…

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