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GILES MERRITT’S book sets out to warn about the deepening divisions over migration, issues urgently in need of strategic responses given that Covid-19 has been exacerbating the difficulties caused by austerity in the wake of the 2008 financial crash.
The increasing competition for housing, healthcare and children’s education has fuelled anti-immigration sentiment — only too understandable, however unacceptable — especially when such sentiments are sparked by the rhetoric of populist politicians peddling a series of myths from the right.
Merritt sets out to explode the most misleading of these myths, starting from the myth that Europe has no need of migrants. But it does. Most European countries need more, not fewer migrants to compensate for the drop in the total working-age population.
Demographic decline is a very real threat to European living standards, he argues, and rather than taking European jobs, the opposite is the case.
Nor do migrants generally depress wage levels. 2016 research evidence shows to the contrary that areas with large increases in immigration suffered no marked falls in the jobs and pay of British-born workers.
Myths about migrants as spongers scrounging off welfare are similarly dismissed, along with a number of those about the social and political effects of migrant concentrations in whole cities.
While much of the evidence is European — the author is a journalist-turned-think-tanker with a specific focus on the EU — this myth-busting is as relevant here in Britain.
But the main thrust of the book is the case for a more forward-looking approach to policy at the European level. The EU’s attempts to foster solidarity on immigration rules was blocked before Covid-19, Merritt argues, “and now lies in tatters.”
He explores the case for developing alternative policies in further detail, including the case for making a bonfire of immigration red tape.
This could enable migrants to work legally, as soon as possible after their arrival, with access to relevant education and training opportunities being an example.
The prospects for gaining widespread support for such alternative approaches remain problematic in the current political context, as Merritt himself recognises, let alone gaining effective support for a coherent strategy at the European level.
The book concludes by drawing together a number of policy proposals as the basis for such a strategy for the future, some of more problematic than others.
This is about policy development from the top down, in response to Europe’s changing demography and the “people power” of the book’s title refers to the power of migrants’ labour rather than to the power of people organising from below.
But that is not to detract from the value of much of the evidence that this book has to offer.
Published by Bloomsbury, £17.99.
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