By Rachel Elgy: firstname.lastname@example.org
As the country is in the throes of the coronavirus crisis, there has been an increase in calls for kindness. With mutual aid groups springing up to support vulnerable people in our communities, rainbows, applause, creativity and inspirational fundraising initiatives, in many ways this crisis has highlighted our national and global humanity.
Therefore, it is utterly disheartening that while the nation pulls together, the government has moved ahead with plans to pull people apart. On Monday 18th May, the Immigration Bill was voted through the House of Commons with an overwhelming majority. But, whilst it appears to have little opposition within the Cabinet, there is vocal and urgent opposition to it across political parties and throughout UK society.
The new Bill sees Britain introducing a points-based immigration system starting in January 2021, the full details of which remain to be decided. The Bill currently states requirements such as a job offer at an ‘appropriate skill level’ and from an ‘approved provider’ and a ‘required level’ of spoken English. Home Secretary, Priti Patel describes it as ‘A firmer, fairer and simpler system that will attract the people we need to drive our country forward through the recovery stage of coronavirus, laying the foundation for a high wage, high skill, productive economy.’
Her comment is laced with insults: if the new system attracts the people the country ‘needs’, immigrants living here who would not meet the new thresholds are being told they are unnecessary, not useful for the country’s future. This, despite the fact that to give just one example, one fifth of all health and social care staff were born outside the UK, and with 24% of carers on zero-hour contracts, and permanent starting salaries between £16,000-£19,500, the majority of these workers would not meet the new salary threshold, which requires an absolute minimum of £20,480. Migrant care workers are being offered a badge and applause one moment, and a slap round the face the next.
One doesn’t need to be an economist to also be aware that high wage does not always equal high skill, and vice versa. The coronavirus crisis has increased recognition and appreciation for the essential workers who are keeping the country going: nurses and medical staff, those who work on public transport, refuse collectors, postal workers and supermarket staff. Essential, but according to Patel and the new points-based system, not the people the country ‘needs.’ It’s a huge contradiction, and a painful blow when key workers are sacrificing so much during this crisis.
Beyond the contradictions, and the hurtful nature of the policy, there are major concerns for the broader impact of this Bill. The Public Sector Equality Duty of the Equality Act 2010 places a duty on government to pay due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations throughout their practice. The government hasn’t publicly discussed an Equality Impact Assessment for this new immigration policy, which would be a useful and important tool for assessing the potential harms (or opportunities) of the policy, so we thought we’d have a go, based on the information we know so far.
When carrying out an Equality Impact Assessment the starting point is to clarify:
- What is the main purpose or aims of the policy?
- Who will be the beneficiaries of the policy?
The government states “We will deliver a system that works in the interests of the whole of the UK…” However, with the hugely negative impact this policy could have on industries such as health and social care, agriculture and hospitality, and with the uncertainty, fear and division that comes from dehumanising migrants and placing worth only on ‘skills’, this claim can be immediately rebutted.
The next step is to ask, could the policy or the way it is carried out have a negative impact on people with a particular characteristic?
Let’s consider the potential impact of a points-based immigration system on some of the nine protected characteristics within the Equality Act 2010.
With a large focus of the points-based system designed to bring in workers for ‘high skilled’ roles, this could easily discriminate against those of retirement age looking to migrate to the UK, or those who are younger, therefore without existing employment or experience who may be looking to start a career here or even to start their own business.
The Women’s Budget Group has written a full statement on the gendered impact of the Immigration Bill, and it’s not a positive one. The statement highlights the fact that careers in science and engineering are scored more highly in the new proposed system, and that, for example only 12% of those working in engineering are women. Therefore, it’s clear that the points-based system, by favouring industries in which women are under-represented, and under-valuing careers in which women are over-represented, will systemically discriminate against women.
Sex based discrimination in the workplace, including pregnancy and maternity discrimination (which is itself a protected characteristic) is well documented and unfortunately an incredibly pervasive issue, impacting on access to higher paid roles, and often meaning that women are taking on unpaid care responsibilities, making them less likely to qualify under a points-based immigration system.
Again, a points-based system that dictates which jobs are considered to be ‘high skilled’ and valuable is likely to discriminate against those with disabilities, who already face huge barriers to employment, and who may have access to a limited range of roles depending on their impairment, and due to many employers failing to make their workplaces accessible.
Unfortunately the UK has an ongoing endemic issue of racism, throughout all aspects of life including healthcare, employment, housing and justice. People who are Black, Asian, or from other minority groups such as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities face huge barriers to employment, either through unconscious bias where those with ‘foreign sounding’ names are less likely to be offered interviews, or through outright prejudice and hostile working environments.
An Equality Impact Assessment should also consider whether the way the policy is implemented could have a negative impact, and we need to address the fact that structural racism and unconscious bias may affect the way this policy is carried out. The review of the Windrush scandal found that the Home Office showed “ignorance and thoughtlessness” on the issue of race, and that the scandal was a “profound institutional failure” which turned thousands of people’s lives upside down. What steps are being taken to ensure that similar mistakes will not be made again?
Finally, an Equality Impact Assessment would ask if the policy or the way it is implemented could have a negative impact on relations between groups.
A UN Special Rapporteur reported in 2019 that “UK Government policies exacerbate discrimination, stoke xenophobic sentiment and further entrench racial inequality”, and research by University of Warwick found that “Government campaigns on immigration provoked or increased anger and fear, among irregular migrants, regular migrants, and non-migrants…”
It is hard to accept that an immigration policy which describes human beings as the country’s ‘migrant stock’, and places value based only on people’s economic earning potential won’t cause incredible harm to community relations and continue to create an environment that is hostile and unwelcoming.
In EqualiTeach’s workshops with young people we discuss what it means to be an immigrant and explore the various reasons people may have for moving. Young people tell us of their friends and families who may have moved to a new country to live closer to their loved ones, to experience a different culture and lifestyle, to retire in the sunshine or to find new opportunities. It’s important to remember that this new Immigration Bill doesn’t only take these opportunities away from migrants looking to move to the UK, but also from British citizens hoping to move away. It is a huge step backwards for people’s rights and freedoms, and we are all the poorer for it.
In direct contradiction of the Public Sector Equality Duty, this policy has the potential to actively discriminate, reduce equality of opportunity, and increase division. If this legal obligation does not spur the government to carefully reconsider this policy, we must call on their sense of humanity. Migrants are not ‘stock’ but human beings. This policy will not only impact industries and economy but individuals, families and communities too. Our worth, our rights, our freedoms should not be based on our economic status but on our humanity alone.
(Image Creator: Oli Scarff |Credit: Getty Images)