Migration — the fairness test to come

Think Tank

4 min read

Mark Goyder is a senior advisor to the Board Intelligence Think Tank. He’s the founder of Tomorrow’s Company and co-author with Ong Boon Hwee of Entrusted: Stewardship for Responsible Wealth Creation, published by World Scientific in 2020.

I listened recently to a fascinating BBC radio programme about housing in Vienna. There was so much to admire. Housing designed for community living; plenty of green space; accommodation rented to all social classes with no “no-go” areas; a far-sighted city authority had bought and held plenty of land for future need; the ability of tenants to pass on accommodation to their family after death. The Viennese policy is a model of fairness and long-termism. In the UK, by contrast, a report by the New Economics Foundation tells us that since 1980 over 2 million social homes have been sold, with only 4% of these replaced. The Viennese approach seems so much more civilised.

For a long time, the programme’s narrator added, however, these privileges were not open to people classed as “foreigners”, for example migrants from Turkey. They were left to scramble for such accommodation as they could find. Before the right to social housing was extended, Austria had for decades felt it must look after its own first.

This prompts the question “Who is my neighbour?” — a question which will increasingly loom over the future decision-making of boards.

In 2022 over 45,000 people (45% of all asylum seekers) came to the UK in small boats. With the Home Office unable to keep up, at the start of this year 166,000 were waiting for an initial decision on their asylum application. Of these, 110,000 had already been waiting six months, forbidden to seek work.

What will the number of asylum seekers be 30 years hence?

In the 2018 World Bank report Groundswell it was estimated that 30 to 143 million climate migrants may be forced from their homes by climate change impacts by 2050. In the Groundswell II report, due out in July and covering all developing countries, the upper limit of the estimate has gone up to 200 million.

The UN International Organization for Migration has cited estimates of as many as 1 billion environmental migrants in the next 30 years, while more recent projections point to 1.2 billion by 2050, and 1.4 billion by 2060.

Mass migration has been a reality for centuries. In the past egalitarians may have focused on the idea of creating a fairer society within national borders. They may have thought it acceptable to put up barriers to prevent others from getting in and exhausting the finite resources available.

In the face of accelerating global migration precipitated by climate change, war and inequality, these nation-state policies are no longer going to work. It is time for a fundamental rethink about fairness and equality.

The humanitarian response to Ukrainian refugees is closer to the model that we will need to adopt in future. Our current skill and labour shortages may help to sweeten the pill. According to The Observer, “Among those trapped in the Home Office backlog and unable to work . . . there are thousands of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.”

It is time for all of us, but especially policymakers and business leaders, to recognise this crucial issue and to start persuading our politicians to raise their sights. Here is a suggested script for that difficult conversation — one which should involve central and local government and NGOs but which could be initiated by far-sighted businesses:

  • We commit to seeking international cooperation on our migration policy.
  • We will commit to a positive policy of welcoming our share of migrants a year coming from the following groups:
    • Those fleeing persecution, armed conflict violence or slavery.
    • Those made homeless by climate and other natural causes.
    • Those who have or wish to develop skills especially needed in our own economy.
    • Those with strong family reasons for coming here.
  • We will create and preserve safe and legal routes for people seeking asylum here.
  • We will organise ourselves to minimise the time between the making of an application for asylum and the decision on that asylum.
  • From the moment of their arrival, we will do all we can to enable migrants to play an active and positive part in the communities to which they come, whether as volunteers or paid employees. This does not preclude vetting and security checks but we believe that the vast majority of people want to contribute and become part of the fabric of our life and we will gain more by working on that assumption than by treating new arrivals as pariahs.
  • We will continuously review our national workforce plan, for the NHS, public sector and other critical industries and seek every opportunity to recognise the qualifications of new arrivals early and make use of their skills.
  • This does not mean that we can guarantee the same levels of economic support or quality of life to new migrants as to our own citizens from the moment of their arrival. New migrants will find that they are on minimal levels of economic support and crowded housing and must expect this during a period while their case is being considered until granted the right to remain. However, their opportunity to get involved and to contribute to the working of our society will inevitably lead to better opportunities to be safe and well-looked-after.
  • We will give local authorities generous funding that is proportional to the volume of new migrants arriving in their area and their task of enabling those migrants to play the fullest part in society.

While I don’t expect this to be taken up by any political party at the coming General Election, farsighted leaders will need to have adopted something like it by 2030. It won’t be possible to achieve this in a partisan political climate. It will be essential to achieve this somehow by seeking a cross-party agreement. Let’s start now.

  The Fairer Future inquiry    Find out what keeps our community of business leaders awake at night, and what  it will take to create a fairer future for all. Download the report

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