Labour campaigner and barrister. Blogging about politics, with a focus on crime and policing.

Angry about pretty much everything Chris Grayling does to the criminal justice system: by the sale of chunks of it to Serco and G4S who have ripped off the taxpayer to the tune of millions, the cuts to legal aid and the privatisation of the probation service.

More widely, I want my children to grow up in a country where the bests universities are affordable for everyone, with an NHS run for the public good, not private profit and where families do not have to turn to food banks to feed their kids. Is this too much to ask?

Friday 3 January 2014

A balanced approach to immigration

In 1922 my wife's grandparents came to Greece as refugees. Fleeing the Turkish massacre of the Greek minority they arrived with nothing. Just like asylum seekers today they faced prejudice and poverty but raised five happy and successful kids. Two generations on my wife came to England. She qualified as a lawyer and works with social services to protect children from neglect and abuse.

For me this family history is inspiring stuff, but it's hardly unique. The evidence shows immigrants work hard and have changed our society for the better:

- Immigrants pay 34% more in taxes than they receive from the state. Without immigration the UK debt crisis would be even worse.

- The assumption that every foreign worker takes the job of a British worker is a myth. Employment is not a zero sum game. As foreign workers spend their wages they create demand and jobs elsewhere in the economy.

- The NHS would not survive without the thousands of foreign doctors and nurses. As for "health tourism" the statistics just do not back up government claims. Twice as many foreign patients pay for treatment as the 5000 to 20,000 who receive free health care. We are also a net exporter of patients with 63,000 Brits travelling abroad for treatment.

Whenever, the Daily Mail prints anti-immigrant propaganda (as they did in relation to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s) these stats must be shouted from the roof tops.

But having said all that, it would be wrong to pretend that no one has lost out with the free movement of people. Take a look at the impact on wages, for example. Research by the Migration Advisory Committee shows that average wages have not fallen as a result of immigration. But the average is only part of the story. The same research shows that immigration has caused a reduction in wages for those at the bottom, and an increase for those at the top. Of course, that too is a generalisation as the picture varies sector by sector. The "Settle For Nothing Less" report (December 2nd 2013) found that migration was a significant factor behind a failure to pay the minimum wage in agriculture, construction and domestic work.

So what would Labour do? In recent months there have been several announcements, including:

- Require firms of over 50 staff to offer one apprenticeship for every foreign worker they recruit. Now it's true that these apprenticeships would, by law, have to be available to EU citizens as well as British ones. That said, in the year up to June 2013, 92% of apprenticeships were filled by Brits. In practice, this is about getting big business to take responsibility for solving our country's skills shortages.

- Make it illegal for firms to target and recruit only foreign workers

- Make it illegal for employers to run shifts only for foreign workers or segregate shifts by nationality

- Ban unsuitable accommodation being used as tied housing to offset the minimum wage.

- Take action to enforce the minimum wage. Despite estimates of 300 000 workers receiving less than the legal limit there have been just two prosecutions in the last 4 years. Fines for non-compliance need to be increased and firms breaking the law should be named and shamed.

For some on the right these plans won't go nearly far enough. They will only be happy once we leave the EU and pull up the drawbridge. In contrast, Labour must have the courage to make the case for the free movement of people, for the prosperity and opportunities it brings. These policies are practical ways to make sure those benefits can be shared by everyone.

Monday 16 December 2013

The creeping privatisation of the NHS

The privatisation of the NHS is both alarming and complicated. Alarming, because a service run for private profit is a real threat to the principle of universal healthcare, free at the point of use. Complicated, partly because of the convoluted legislative changes that allow it to happen, partly because it's a gradual, piecemeal process and partly because the Tories deny it's happening at all. Finchley and Golders Green MP Michael Freer recently tweeted to a constituent "No-one is privatising the NHS. Complete tosh"

Helpfully, the website sets the record straight. It tracks the evidence of NHS privatisation: the 358 GP surgeries now run by Virgin Care, for example, or the details by sector of the 135 NHS services put out to tender since April.

However, the section I want to zoom in on in this blog post is the links between Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and private health care firms. By way of background, CCGs were established by the Health and Social Care Act 2012. They include all the GP groups in the area and manage primary care in that area. They command £60 billion and decide which services should be commissioned, or bought by the NHS. This includes elective hospital care, rehabilitation care, urgent and emergency care, most community health services and mental health and learning disability services. This process is right at the heart of the creeping privatisation of the NHS.

Yet a survey by the British Medical Journal in March 2013 found that 36% of doctors with a place on one of the CCG boards had shares in private health companies, others were senior directors of those same companies. Now to be fair, board members are required to register their financial interests and leave the meeting when a conflict of interest comes up. Even so, as this list of conflicts of interest that have arisen on the 'NHS for sale' website shows, real concerns persist that decisions will be made not in the interest of patients' health but that of private profit.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Raise the minimum wage - and make sure it gets paid!

The national minimum wage was one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government. Despite warnings from a young David Cameron that it would "send unemployment straight back up" it did no such thing and instead improved the lives of millions. Yet today the security if offered working people is under threat. First, because it's value has dropped. Secondly, because 300,000 workers are being paid at less than the legal minimum.

Turning first to the level of the minimum wage. Every year since 2008 it has failed to keep pace with inflation and is now worth £1000 less than it was 5 years ago. The Living Wage campaign is a wonderful demonstration of what Labour councils, trade unions and ordinary campaigners can achieve for the low paid. But in government we must go further still.

Rather than simply urging firms to sign up to the Living Wage, we must raise the minimum wage up from the current £6.31 to bring it to Living Wage levels (£7.65 UK and £8.80 in London). This would free thousands of hard working people from poverty pay. It is a disgrace that so many users of food banks are people in work. It is also a disgrace that our benefits system has been gradually allowed to subsidise low pay. As Andrew Lewin argued in a brilliant post on Labour List that raising the minimum wage to the level of the living wage could not be achieved overnight. On the other hand, but should be seen as a target to be achieved, step by step, by 2020.Turning to the question of enforcement. A disturbing recent report has shown that 300,000 workers receive less than the minimum wage and the number is growing fast see here. In as many as 8 London boroughs (Waltham Forest, Hackney, Haringey, Ealing, Sutton, Lewisham, Newham and Bexley) 5% of workers are paid below the legal minimum. At the same time there has only ever been one prosecution in London for failing to pay the minimum wage. The report suggests the following measures:

- Remove the £5000 cap on fines

- Name and shame firms prosecuted

- Give local authorities the power to bring NMW prosecutions

- Insist on NMW payment for home carers' travel time

These deserve serious consideration. The last Labour government worked hard to redistribute income through benefits to help the lowest earners. The focus of the next Labour government must be on making sure that everyone earns a decent wage in the first place.