Xenophobia and Brexit (again)

Early in December there was a revealing juxtaposition in my media feeds. There was a story by Matthew d’Ancona in The GuardianLet’s be honest about what’s really driving Brexit: bigotry”, and the Daily Mail inadvertently providing evidence.

Protest in Newcastle soon after Referendum result
The Guardian piece put a persuasive case for seeing bigotry at the heart of the support for Brexit. It is persuasive but not totally compelling, in that I know people who voted Leave out of a sense of alienation or wanting to waive two fingers at politicians, and others who voted Leave because life has been very tough and they felt that “something has to change” — without thinking too closely of the possibility of things changing for the worse.

And the Daily Mail ran one story appealing for volunteers to help in the NHS, and another proudly proclaiming that 11,000 people had come forward.

What’s intriguing about the Daily Mail story is that the claim has been that “immigrants are taking our jobs”. Though the reality is that immigrants also boost the economy and therefore create jobs, this has been a real fear. But Brexit is leading to staff shortages in the NHS, and the Daily Mail is proud of people volunteering to plug the gap, then something else is going on. Volunteers are not paid. The Daily Mail initiative has turned “immigrants taking our jobs”, which sounds like an economic argument, into “we should be prepared to work for nothing”, as a price (apparently) gladly-paid for getting rid of foreigners.

Continue reading “Xenophobia and Brexit (again)”

Immigration and low pay

At first sight it can seem obvious that immigration undermines wages, at least in low-paid work. One of the rallying cries of the Eurosceptic right is about “foreigners coming over here and taking our jobs”. But is this true?

Migrant workers in East Anglia
Migrant workers in East Anglia

In an earlier post, I commented that “people at the bottom of the pile, resentful at the opportunities they feel they don’t have, are the ones who would lose most if these migrants stopped coming (or ‘went home’)”. I’d like to unpack this.

At first sight, challenging this seems counter-intuitive. In 2013, UKIP were spreading stories of 350,000-400,000 likely migrants from Romania and Bulgaria when restrictions on emigration were lifted. In reality, the number of EU migrants employed in the UK actually fell in the subsequent few months.

It’s hard to measure the effect of immigrants on wages, Continue reading “Immigration and low pay”