There’s a disturbing acceptance by our political masters that
Britain has to become ever more dependent on poaching people from
poorer nations to deliver our front-line services.
There is an assumption that there is a virtually limitless supply
of kind, caring individuals who are queuing to come here, to work
hard, and make a positive contribution to this country. This is
One glance at those on the front line in health and social services
reveals how heavily we have come to rely on those from other
countries to fill these posts.
The rationale goes further. These professionals do not expect to be
paid the same as those from well established communities here in
Britain. Yet the wages are high compared to what migrants would be
paid “back home”. The argument goes that many will be sending money
“home” to relatives in their country of origin. This, in turn, will
help enrich and modernise those countries.
Until the recent headlines about an influx of potential economic
migrants following the enlargement of the European Union, no one
seemed to challenge this economic theory. But it will become an
issue within the next few months, once all the implications have
During trips in the past three months to Slovakia, Lithuania and
Poland, I’ve been left in no doubt that these countries and others
are deeply concerned about losing their qualified and hard-working
colleagues to Britain and other “richer” member states.
One political activist from central Europe commented: “We’re very
grateful to Britain for supporting initiatives to give proper,
professional training to some of our young people. You are a very
generous country. But why do you then take them away from us to
work for you?”
Recent experiences of dealing with health care professionals in
Africa brought home this point.
The Treasury is unlikely to see it like that, especially as this
reliance on “cheap” economic migrants gives it an excuse for
keeping pay down in public services – not least, in social
This issue has not made the top of the political agenda to date.
But EU enlargement may change that. If not, we will continue to
treat many talented people in the new member states as either a
“problem” or as a source of cheap labour. Both perceptions are
Sheila Gunn is a political commentator and a Conservative
councillor in the London Borough of Camden.