At the British Academy in London earlier this week, Secretary of State for
Communities and Local Government John Denham gave a speech about “Managing the
welfare impacts of migration in times of economic turbulence.”
Recent opinion polls show large numbers of citizens in European countries are
convinced that migrants place disproportionate pressure on public services, a
feeling that is likely to deepen in the shadow of the recession when demand for
public services increases.
Mr. Denham had this to say:
“Some people understandably have worries and fears about migration – whether
it will undermine their wages, their job prospects and their chance of finding a
“That may be particularly true if they feel that their community is already
under pressure from wider forces – economic trends; deprivation; worklessness.
There are also important questions about fairness.
“In the UK, entitlements to public services are based on residency and
citizenship, paying taxes, and playing by the rules – people have a strong sense
that these entitlements are ‘earned’.
“If people believe that others are benefiting from jobs, homes, training –
things that we and our families have to wait for and work for – that
understandably fosters a sense of unfairness. If the perception is that certain
groups are not only able to jump the queue but actually benefit from privileged
treatment then that problem is magnified.
“The problem here is one of perception, but we shouldn’t dismiss it – because
it is a problem.
“Those of us who feel culturally enriched by the benefits of migration and
who are insulated from the competition for jobs, housing and public services
that is potentially posed by migrants, often find the views difficult to
“The affluent often are able to see opportunities within change and
uncertainty: whereas those who are less insulated from potential drawbacks may
see the same change as a risk or a threat.
“The crucial point is to understand and appreciate that people’s differing
perspective is based on their experience and position within society: not as is
sometimes said be because people ‘don’t understand the
Mr. Denham’s speech went on to discuss how the implications of migration can
be managed in a way that is both effective and fair, looking at the role greater
decentralisation can play in improving local authorities’ capacity to manage
pressures posed by migration, and the potential trade-offs for equality and
You can read more of Mr. Denham’s speech on the Policy Network website.
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