Monthly Archives: October 2014

Everyone gets a chance

Migrants arriving at Ellis Island off New York City.
Migrants arriving at Ellis Island off New York City.

Most of us are familiar with the “American Dream” of the 19th and early 20th Century, when waves of immigrants left Europe for the US in the hope of creating a better life for themselves. I’ve been to Ellis Island and seen the scale and hope of those people. Years later further waves of migration followed when those fleeing war in Europe made the trip across the Atlantic to find safety and a future for their families.

We too are a migrant nation. From the times of the earliest known settlements, groups of people have come here from the mainland of Europe, tribe after tribe, right up to the Norman invasion. Since then waves of migration, whether drawn by the Industrial Revolution or the needs of our post-war economy, have helped keep our economy moving forward. In an increasingly globalised world, one which remains plagued by war and economic instability, migration to the UK continues.

Times of uncertainty breed fear and insecurity, and the myths of the immigrant benefit seeker are happily spread by our media. The public think that 31% of the population are immigrants, when the official figures are 13%. Even estimates that attempt to account for illegal immigration suggest a figure closer to 15%. There are similar misconceptions on ethnicity: the average estimate is that Black and Asian people make up 30% of the population, when it is actually 11% (or 14% if we include mixed and other non-white ethnic groups).

It is little wonder then that immigration is now the top issue, along with the NHS (which ironically relies heavily on staff from overseas) and UKIP popularity is increasing.

We cannot ignore those concerns, and we cannot be afraid to enter the debate – indeed to do so abandons not just our settled communities but our migrants also.

We need to break some of the myths on immigration, highlight the benefits of people coming to the UK, the fact that migrants are predominantly of working age, pay taxes and have higher rates of business start-ups than the already-resident population.

We need to be clear, as Labour, that we will act on immigration, particularly where employment markets are distorted and workers are exploited for low pay. Rights and minimum wage levels are for all workers, not just long-term resident workers. Trades unions must be at the forefront of publicising these facts, and to counter the claims that UKIP represent working people, when in truth they would strip them of rights to maternity and paternity leave, holidays and sickness absence.

We must not give in to fear and the myth that the economic security and prosperity of the British people is threatened by migrants, rather than an economic system that is increasingly unequal and exploitative, with those at the top profiting while the majority struggle. We must listen to the concerns of those who feel threatened, and win the argument.

It is ironic that a majority of Britons believe they should have the right to live and work anywhere in the EU, but that the right of other EU citizens to do so in the UK should be restricted. Millions of Britons have moved to France, Portugal and Spain not just to retire but to work, and many live in the kind of expat, English speaking communities that, if replicated amongst immigrant groups in the UK, are met with suspicion and demands to learn English. We should afford migrants the same rights and respect that we would expect in Lyons, Malaga, Poznan or Maastricht.

And a migrant is a migrant wherever they are from and whatever the colour of their skin. We should treat the person from Dhaka the same as we treat the person from Melbourne. UKIPs policies on immigration cannot be and should not be a smokescreen for racism. We have a duty to play our part in helping those risking their lives to leave their country of origin, not leave them to drown.

Brighton and Hove has relatively low levels of migration, but a strong record of helping those refugees fleeing persecution elsewhere. We do have huge pressures on housing from our resident population, from around four thousand people a year moving here from London alone, from a rapidly growing and increasingly diverse student population, and from people drawn here by our economic success. Pressures on housing must be managed and addressed, which is why I have pledged to push for 40% affordable housing and at least 400 new council homes during the first term of a Labour council administration here.

As a local politician I will represent everyone who lives here. We all walk the same streets, share the same environment, use the same NHS. We are elected to run this part of the world and we will try to make a fair and better life for all who live in it, whether their family has been here for centuries or whether they arrived this morning. Everyone gets a chance to make a start, to get a job or start a business, register to vote and pay taxes, as generations of migrants to the UK have.

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Our NHS

untitled“it will last as long as there folk left with the faith to fight for it.” – Nye Bevan

Ten days ago the Tories admitted to the Times newspaper that “NHS reforms have been our worst mistake”. And we can see the results for ourselves.

Since 2010 there have been 440 reorganisations of our health service costing £3 billion. So much for “No top-down reorganisation of the NHS”. Senior NHS managers’ pay has risen by almost three times as much as nurses’ salaries since the general election. 44% of NHS workers are now working up to 5 hours unpaid overtime a week, saving the NHS £1.5bn a year. Yet Jeremy Hunt responds by freezing their wages.

In a recent snapshot, 5,600 A&E patients were waiting up to 12 hours for beds, double the numbers seen in previous years. Locally our A&E in the city is constantly in Code Black, while collectively Surrey & Sussex NHS Trusts are £16.4 million in the red. Spending on private ambulances has increased by 82 per cent in two years.

Nationally 500 GP practices are at risk of closure – one in my ward is going in February, and GP appointment times are spiralling, with four in ten GPs predicting the average waiting time for appointments at their practice will exceed two weeks from next April.

And then we have a social care system “running on empty… malnourished, reliant on minimum wage and zero hours contracts.”

Now the Government is planning to sell off staff supply agency NHS Professionals, which has roughly 40,000 nurses, doctors, midwives and other healthcare workers on its books and which filled 21.5 million hours of staffing requirements, including 350,000 same-day requests for shift work. Does it make a loss? No, it actually saves the NHS almost £11 million a year.

According the BMA and the RCN the “The damage done to the NHS has been profound and intense”, with it now at “breaking point” with its “founding principles” now at stake, “buckling under the twin crises of rising demand and flat-lining budgets”.

Recent polls show the NHS is now the number one concern for voters, with almost 60% prepared to pay more tax to maintain the current level of care and services provided. By 4 to 1, people think the NHS is worse under David Cameron. 51% don’t believe he’s personally committed to it.

Andy Burnham has pledged that Labour will “remove the market from the NHS”, creating an ever-greater cradle-to-grave service that will eventually include integrated universal, free provision of care to the elderly.

Labour will guarantee no-one will have to wait longer than one week for cancer tests and results by 2020. A Labour government will deliver £2.5bn in additional funding per year, 20,000 more nursing posts, 5,000 more care workers, 3,000 more midwives and 8,000 more GPs.

Labour’s commitment to a free-at-the-point of use health service is absolute. Only Labour can deliver all this, because only Labour, not the Greens, are an alternative to the current Tory led government. Only Labour can and will repeal the Health and Social Care Act.

And what front the Greens have in bringing this motion today, when we saw just seven days ago in this very chamber the response from service users, from health care worker unions and from Defend the NHS their views on Green proposals for health and social care services, despite the risks in outsourcing. Utter hypocrisy from a Green Party that says one thing to score points and win votes, yet does the opposite when in office. Had they any shame at all they would have withdrawn this motion.

The Greens can’t save the NHS from Tory destruction, Labour will. I’m proud to stand on Labour’s record on the NHS, our actions to defend it, and our commitment to save it.

(Speech to Brighton and Hove City Council meeting, October 23rd)