Tuesday, 30 October 2007

British jobs for British workers?

The Government are wiping statistical egg off their faces again.

Up until this week, we were being told that only 0.8 million foreign migrants had come to work in the UK, while the labour market had grown by 2.7m new jobs. Now the Government has had to revise both figures, admitting that in fact 1.1m new migrants had entered Britain, while only 2.1m new jobs had been created. Far from creating "British jobs for British workers," it appears that Gordon Brown has been creating British jobs for foreign workers.

Except that it's all tosh, of course.

For one thing, Gordon Brown has created only about a couple of hundred thousand new jobs, largely by employing new civil servants, nurses and other public sector employees. Most of the 2.1m new jobs were created in spite of Labour efforts rather than because of them. They are private sector jobs, and a good job too.

But what of Brown's supposed crackdown on migrant labour? Does it matter that 52% of the new jobs have gone to migrants? And who is to blame?

The crackdown on migrant labour is boneheaded Labour nonsense and should be treated with disdain. A real policy of creating "British jobs for British workers" would be illegal under European law, and even if one would rather be out of the European Union it remains an ignorant and self-defeating policy. 1.1m workers are 1.1m workers, whether they come from Portsmouth, Poland or Peru. As long as they work hard they are creating value for the whole community; as long as they earn and spend they are creating jobs for other - mostly British - people; and as long as they are paying taxes they are contributing to the schools and hospitals that we all use.

That these "British jobs" could have gone to "British workers" is of course true, but it is not as though British workers could not have filled them. There are 1.65m unemployed in the UK, and one has to wonder why so many remain unemployed if we have had to import 1.1m workers from abroad to fill the vacancies. The explanation comes from debunking three myths:
  1. Jobs are not created by ministers and civil servants. They are created by businesses that can see a way of turning labour into profit. If they can hire a person and generate more capital than they need pay in wages, it is worth their creating a job. Those jobs were potentially there as long as people were willing to work at that price. It is the availability of foreign labour prepared to work at those prices that created those jobs.
  2. Britain's unemployed were more than welcome to apply for those jobs. Many may have done so; many more did not. There have been numerous managers interviewed for TV and the papers who have stated that they have offered jobs in areas of high unemployment for years and local people have not applied.
  3. We would not have created 2.1m jobs if 1.1m foreigners had not come here to work. As noted above, they spend their wages in our shops, require us to hire our teachers and use products made by our manufacturers. A significant part of those 2.1m jobs are feedback; many of those 2.1m exist because othes within that 2.1m (including within the 1.1m) exist;

The simple truth is that as long as we pay people not to work, we will need to import foreign labour to do the jobs that British people are unwilling to take on. On any day in the UK there are approximately two thirds of a million job vacancies. The problem in the UK is not too many foreign workers; it is too many British people who are not willing to take the jobs that are available.


Joe Otten said...

What are you suggesting, Tom, that the unemployable should starve or be forced into crime? Because that is what it sounds like.

The pertinent point here is the "lump of labour" fallacy. Adding productive workers to an economy does not reduce opportunities for the rest.

Tom Papworth said...

No, Joe. I'm suggesting that they should be required to take some of the c. 650,000 jobs that are vacant every day.

While I do not think that they are all lazy wastrels, it is clear that benefits create comfort zone (the "Poverty Trap") that enables many to choose not to work. We need to be a lot more efficient at getting the unemployed back into work and a lot clearer that if work is not found benefits will be cut.

Frankly, there are plenty of jobs; the problem is people don't want to do them. I don't see why they have a choice.

Matthew Huntbach said...

To suggest it's a matter of British people being unwilling to take the jobs is a bit too simplistic.

Consider you are an employer, and you have a choice - someone from East Europe who is probably in the first or second quartile of intelligence, or someone from the lowest quartile who is British?

It's a no-brainer, isn't it? You take the bright East European.

Tom, are you going to force employers to take Brits rather than people from abroad they prefer and can do the job better?

But leaving it to the market like this does create huge problems, how to accommodate the immigrants, what to do with the Brits at the bottom no-one wants, how to deal with huge resentment and lack of social cohesion this all causes.

Joe Otten said...

Tom, they are already so required. Fail to take a job and you lose your benefits. Yes, the system can be gamed to some extent, but don't pretend you are proposing anything new.

At the same time there are some people who, particularly if they re unwilling, you wouldln't want cluttering up your business, and distracting productive workers. Even if they was no cost.

And even the willing ones may have applied for dozens of vacancies, and been beaten to each one.

Tom Papworth said...


I'm not pretending anything of the sort, but equally, please don't pretend that people are really forced to accept work because it is simply not true. I have known university graduates who have been on JSA for a decade; the New Deal is a notorious revolving door. The simple truth is that government is not willing to suspend all benefits, and this creates moral hazard, affecting the decisions of those out of work.

As for the unwilling workers, they would work far more diligently if they felt they had more to lose than a return to an unearned income that is nearly as high as their earned income (when one includes Housing and Council Tax benefit etc.).


I'm not convinced that the farmers who are employing East Europeans to pick cabbages, or the Aberdeen fish-factory manager who needs ment to pack fresh fish in ice, has any great yearning to hunt out the brightest and the best. On the contrary, he wants people who will stay the course.

I would not need to force employers to accept British people if British people felt they needed to work.

lee said...

I'm long-term unemployed and I don't know about being forced to take jobs, but I've certainly been forced to undertake unpaid work and participate in [unpaid] training schemes...maybe there just aren't enough jobs in my part of Yorkshire for the jobcentre to force us take them.

Tristan said...

From my experience you are sometimes required to take a job /if you are offered one/. This is only sometimes, it depends upon your 'Job Seeker's Agreement' you sign.

Also, if you take it upon yourself to use your initiative to undergo training which is not state sponsored you risk losing your JSA because you're 'not available to work'. Great incentive for people to not try to improve themselves there...

The whole system is a mess. We encourage people to stay on benefits through generous benefits and taxing the low paid so much that the increase in money you come away with is not more than being on benefits.

Some people have such a low productivity that they cannot support themselves, I think Tom acknowledges this. That is the group for whom long term benefits are for. Everyone else should be offered short term benefits to cushion the blow of becoming unemployed but should be required to get work.

Until we live in a post-scarcity economy that is, then the basics of life will be free and we'll only need to work for things like going to a music gig or being waited upon at a restaurant.
Of course, by that point we may have hit a technological singularity and all be living in computers anyway (or something equally incomprehensible)

Tom Papworth said...

I remember when I was unemployed and I undertook an internship. I went to the Jobcentre and asked if they would pay for my travel, as they do with other training programmes.

They refused, even though this was vocational and would have (indeed, did have) a profound effect on my employability. They said that the training burseries "weren't aimed at people like me"; i.e. the officials were exercising their powers arbitrarily to decline to sponsor me for a suitable course that I had found, because they prefered to sponser people to go on courses that they had found that was of dubious worth.

Instead, they told me I would lose my JSA becasue I was not available for work, even though I pointed out to them that I was still actively seeking work and could resign the internship at a moment's notice.

This is hardly a system designed to help people improve their situation.

Tom Papworth said...

If a Pole can support himself picking cabbages for £6 an hour, why can't a Brit support himself in the same way?

The main difficulties faced by those on low incomes are
1) high taxes levied on low incomes
2) a lack of supply in the housing market caused by obstructive planning laws, and
3) expensive basic food stuffs caused by tarriffs that enrich agro-businesses at the expense of poor consumers.

The solution is not benefits, but economic reform.

Tristan said...

Those with such low productivity would be the mentally disabled or severely physically disabled.

The vast majority of people are capable of working and have productivity high enough to give them a wage which they should be able to live on.

Tom Papworth said...

Those are of course exceptional situations and the government does not recognise them as "unemployed" in the sense that they could be but are out of work. Provision must be made for those unable to look after themselves.

Joe Otten said...

Some good points here about unapproved training, internship and so on.

But when I talked about unproductive people I certainly wasn't talking about physical disability. A physical disability may well mean that many employers won't even consider you, but the disability itself need not, for most jobs, have any significant impact on productivity once in work.

No, who I had in mind was people who have a terribly bad attitude to work. Who, (at the extreme end) if you employ them, will take more in stationery than they will bring in work done. Such people need some sort of damascene conversion before there is much point bullying them into work. Although how that would happen I don't know.

Tom Papworth said...

I agree with you that disability does not automatically make a person unproductive, though it is not by any means just the prejudice of employers that excludes disabled people from work.

The State all-too-often automatically treats them as victims and many are wedded to benefits.

As for the work-shy and the Post It thieves, I think that their Damascene moment would come when they were fired and found that benefits were not available, so that they had to find other, less pleasent work. That would teach them that their activities and choices had consequences: a lesson we have all at some point had to learn.

Matthew Huntbach said...

For women, the "other less pleasant work" that is turned to in desperation is often prostitution. For men, it's drug dealing.

You sure this is the road you want to go down?

Joe Otten said...

Hey, prostitution and drug dealing, I was going to say that.

There's also sponging off the parents.

Anyway, my point is, Tom, you seem to be proposing the status quo, only with a bit more of the bullying. (The sort of bullying that works against people eager to study in non-approved ways). Forgive me if I am underwhelmed.

Tom Papworth said...


An underwhelming vision is better than no vision at all, and so far you've suggested no alternative other than a quiescence in the face of massive unemployment. That is frankly irresponsible.


To suggest that the only alternative to benefits is crime is deliberately disingenuous - must I remind you of the 650,000 jobs advertised every day to which I referred above?

Not that either of the activities you mentioned should be illegal. In a free society people should be free to voluntarily enter any contract that they believe to be to their personal benefit. Then their activities would be neither illegal nor nearly so detriminetal to their welfare. But that is a separate debate. Perhaps you might like to discuss (part of) it here and here..

Joe Otten said...

No Tom, it is not irresponsible to argue that the solution to something is not in the gift of the state.

In fact the opposite is true. The belief that the right policy will solve any particular problem is what leads to the assumption that the state must always solve all our problems and the encroachment of the state and diminution of our freedom and responsibility.

I expect you are familiar with this point.

Tom Papworth said...

I'm quite prepared to believe that the solution is not in the gift of the state. But is the state helping or hindering when it pays people not to work?

On a more general point, I'm not sure why this debate has fixated on compulsion. There are plenty of means by which unemployed people can be assisted to find work; however, Jobcentre Plus is hopeless at delivering. In Australia they privatised the job centres and saw a dramatic increase in both people placed in work and in the retention of those jobs (suggesting people were found fitting and rewarding work).

The initial article was arguing that those who draw parallels between the 1.65m unemployed in the UK and the 1.1m immigrant workers are blaming the wrong scapegoats.

JohnN said...

What was Gordon Brown on about? This British Jobs for British workers is slightly mad. Its illegal for starters. It fails to appreciate the immigrant contribution to the UK

Tom Papworth said...


I entirely agree. It is truly astonishing that Gordon Brown has turned his back on one of the few policies where he can genuinely show that he helped the British economy prosper.

Gordon Brown deserved credit for allowing citizens of the 2005 accession countries to come to Britain, create and spend their wealth and pay taxes. In 2007, he caved in to rising xenophobia among those unwilling to take the work that is on offer (yesterday, on The Daily Politics, Liam Byrne
cited 600,000 jobs advertised a day in the UK), those frustrated by local services that are overwhelmed because government’s funding of local authorities is dysfunctional, and those for whom foreigners are never welcome.

Fortunately, “British jobs for British workers” is vacuous nonsense. If it were real it would be a fast track to recession.

Anonymous said...

do any of you work i work in the building trade and have seen british workers sacked because tey can get poles to work for half the pay most have not had a rise for years or seen thier pay reduced this is not a game we are reducing workers in this country to poverty thanks tony blair when the next election comes we wont forget