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Senior government ministers have passed a regulation that, from April, jobless immigrants will be denied access to housing benefits. Also, immigrants will only be able to claim jobseeker’s allowance for the first six months of unemployment unless they have a “genuine chance of getting a job.” The three-month ban on claiming out-of-work benefits is to be passed soon also. Whereas some of the rationales behind the legislation might be reasonable, I would argue that the comments accompanying them are inaccurate and discriminatory.
Home Secretary Theresa May and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said that such steps will “prevent the exploitation of the welfare system,” suggesting that “no longer can people come here from abroad and expect to get something for nothing.” The image of the “unemployed foreigner, abusing the British soft social state” has been on the rise for months now, creating a very false image indeed.
There is no argument about certain people coming to Britain just because it is easier to live a jobless life here. However, the vast majority of immigrants come to Britain because they cannot find a well-paid job in their own countries. They don’t expect “something for nothing”; in fact, they don’t expect anything at all except hard work. Most of the immigrants I know have two jobs, and work at least 60 hours per week. They are tired, but happy, because they can finally get paid enough to save money for the future. Many of them come here just for couple of years, to earn enough for a house, for a wedding, for travel, but in the end they decide to stay, because their lives are better here, even if they work around the clock. They are actually here because they want to work hard, and because their own country doesn’t give them enough opportunities.
If this article was a spoken discussion, now would be the time for the counter argument that “immigrants take jobs away from Britons.” Based on my personal experience with employers in immigrant-occupied areas, this argument is nothing but rubbish. First of all, many of the foreigners take on living-in jobs in hotels and B&Bs. How many British people would actually want to leave their own house or flat, share a room in a cellar, and be required to “stay on watch” outside of their paid working hours? Even if so, what is stopping British people taking those jobs away from immigrants? Potentially, they have advantages over them – they speak the language, they know the cultural environment, and they share the same nationality and values with the employers. If the British were willing to do those jobs, and if they committed themselves to them as much as immigrants do, foreigners would stand no chance.
Sometimes, though, some employers may just prefer to hire immigrants. “We don’t take on any British workers anymore,” one of my previous employers told me. “You have better working discipline and morals. For one foreigner we would need two Britons. You can work harder.”
But it is not an unfair policy that deprived British workers of their jobs. It is not even the immigrants, who stole their work. It is the free hand of the market and the fact that it is much more efficient for employers to hire foreign workers. No businessperson in the world would employ a less reliable person, out of national pride, rather than an immigrant who makes a much better bargain.
By all means, however, I am not trying to say that immigrants make better workers in general. Definitely not. Yet the jobs that immigrants do are usually the lowest paying positions in the worst working conditions, positions which are generally reserved for the so-called “lowest class.” In every society, some of its members are simply not as fit for the working environment, for whatever reason. Immigrants are usually from the “middle class sphere” – often they have a university degree, and it is not uncommon that they have previously worked in some highly skilled profession. However, in Britain they get paid better, even if they get only unskilled, low-paying occupations. That is generally the reason why foreigners are able to get jobs which the “lowest class British” can’t, or don’t want, to reach. It is logical, and it is has nothing to do with social politics.
The opinion of Labour’s shadow Work and Pensions secretary Rachel Reeves is, I think, much more preferable: “people who have worked hard all their lives and then lose their job should be entitled to more support than people who have just turned up in this country.” I absolutely agree that foreigners should have no access to benefits for, let’s say, the first three years. But what about people who came to Britain years ago, have worked hard ever since, contributed to the community, and suddenly happened to lose their jobs? Do they not deserve any support? And what about all the housekeepers, cleaners, and waiters who do their best to make Britons’ leisure time and holidays enjoyable? Do these hardworking people really deserve the pathos of the “jobless immigrant”?