As the clock ticks down to the UK’s scheduled divorce date with the EU, Wirral South MP Alison McGovern considers how much value we place on all members of society, and questions how we can continue to grow when shutting people out.
How do we decide certain things are worth more than others? Who decides that care home staff who look after our parents and grandparents day and night are worth £7.36 an hour? How can it be right that the people we trust to look after our children while we go to work are paid an average of £7.09 an hour? Our notion of value seems arbitrary at best and unfair at worst. And it certainly does not reflect the way so many people in our community enrich our lives.
So many of the people carrying out the jobs that make our lives possible are EU migrants and it is no coincidence that they are not valued – in more ways than simply the money they earn. The government recently proposed that immigrants should earn £30k before they are able to come to the UK. What does that tell us about how we see value? Our ageing population needs carers, our hospitals and schools need nurses and teachers and our open mic nights need musicians. None of these people would be likely to hit that threshold. According to CBI data published this month, the average wage for our region is £22,564. In a sense, it is absurd to suggest that people are worth the wages they receive.
The sense that we must interrogate our notion of value has been chiming louder and louder in my ear as I have sat through the government’s Immigration Bill. I am on the bill’s committee, which means I am tasked with scrutinising the plans to end free movement of people from the European Union along with my other Labour colleagues.
This task has been infuriating and it has barely begun. There are 3.5 million European citizens in the UK. They are working, contributing to our economy and our community. They improve our lives immeasurably every single day. Yet it feels like we have simply decided not to value what they do. Not only does the Immigration Bill seek to rescind free movement, it does not make any clearer what rights EU citizens already living and working in the UK will have after playing a crucial role in their jobs, neighbourhoods and amongst their family and friends.
The immigration question has fallen prey to the familiar human tendency to nostalgically look back when we are facing major challenges. Our vision for the UK’s place in the world, how we should run our country and whether we should be outward or inward-looking are issues, which unsurprisingly to those of us that live outside of the Westminster bubble, do not seem to be resolvable by politicians and commentators. No one can agree on either a pathway forward, or on what our priorities should be. The answer to these questions cannot be to undo decades of globalisation in the hope that we can return to how things were. Or how we think they were.
Indeed, our memory, though a crucial part of what makes us human, is not always reliable. The musicians and artists featured in this magazine’s pages will tell you that reminiscence and collective memory are fundamental to so much of our cultural imagination. We remember what we want to see and not the whole picture. Again, this is a question of value. We need to value the future as much and as easily as we seem able to value our past.
To confront challenges and grab opportunities, we must look forward and consider how we want our world to be. And first we need to understand where we are today. There is no significant impact of EU immigration on employment prospects for those born in Britain – when rates of EU immigration are compared with unemployment rates amongst those born in the UK, a 10 percentage-point increase in the share of EU immigrants is associated with a 0.4 percentage-point reduction in the unemployment rate in the same area. What’s more – there is not a fixed number of jobs in an economy. When people receive good wages for good work, demand grows and jobs are created. We all benefit – it is as simple as that.
Facts and figures are important but they do not tell the whole story. Our feeling and perception of our place in the world count equally as much. I know that many of us see our city as a community that embodies openness and warmth. That’s what I felt when I went to Chinatown to celebrate Chinese New Year. It’s what I feel each time I walk into Anfield or when I hear buskers on Bold Street. I want as many people as possible to know Liverpool’s true spirit and character. Let’s welcome people to be a part of it and value what everyone can bring. We should not shut people out simply because we have decided their voices and their contributions are not worth anything. Who are we to make that decision?
Liverpool has always been a city with a creative soul. I am sure many of Liverpool’s artists will vouch for the fact that creativity evolves when people welcome others and work together to make more noise. And just like the most obvious and well-known examples of this happening in our city – Capital of Culture and the Giants spectacular – the sound is louder, more people hear it and more people want to know what’s going on.