Labour pains

IAIN Duncan Smith’s speech on immigration and unemployment will strike a chord with many, given the extent to which Labour tried, and failed, to refute any link between these two issues following the arrival of hundreds of thousands of workers from eastern Europe.

The opposite was clearly true. And while the new arrivals may have brought new skills, and positive benefits, with them, the picture looks rather different now as Britain struggles to emerge from the recession.

Nonetheless, it is far too simplistic for Ministers to just blame past immigration policy – or, for that matter, employers – for the levels of worklessness still plaguing our indigenous population.

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Calling on British firms to employ British workers may make a convenient soundbite for politicians looking to reinforce their right-wing credentials – lest we forget, it was a tactic also employed by Gordon Brown – but it fails to address the fundamental reasons why firms have continued to offer new jobs to immigrants despite the change of Government.

Many foreign workers are highly educated, skilled people who can speak a number of languages. Above all, they are motivated to work. The very act of travelling to an unknown country in search of a better life illustrates the get-up-and-go attitude employers clearly value. No wonder unskilled, unmotivated Britons, who have never managed a day’s work in their lives, consistently come off second-best.

While the Government must, of course, get a tighter grip on immigration, and the Work and Pensions Secretary acknowledges this, the reality is our young people are now competing in an international job market. And as long as our failing education system continues to produce so many people without even basic literacy skills – people for whom work represents something to be avoided rather than embraced – they will continue to miss out. This, above all else, needs to be addressed.