THE 2016 vote for Brexit made Britain far more relaxed about immigration. For a time we thought we had taken back control of it.
Today’s bombshell figures finally blew that faith out of the water.
Mass migration is once again one of the nation’s gravest concerns — as it was before the referendum — and rightly so.
It is not just the adverse impact on ordinary people’s lives of adding 606,000 to our population in one year without upscaling housing, healthcare and all other public services to cope.
It is the grim realisation that while, yes, our elected Government DOES now technically control the influx, our broken economy currently NEEDS such numbers to continue to function.
That is because we do far too little to train Brits for certain jobs.
And because millions are languishing on generous dole payments, with no scrutiny nor any incentive to find work, while the “Shortage Occupation List” grows longer and we have to import more and more foreign labour to fill a glut of vacancies.
If all that has a familiar ring, it is because it is precisely what happened under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Public expected to soak up pressure
This is an economic sickness decades in the making.
The Tories — blown badly off course by the pandemic — have taken us back where we once were.
What is worse, neither they nor Labour currently have a serious plan to wean us off migrant workers.
Nor do they fully yet grasp the likely social and political consequences if they don’t.
There are some mitigating factors for 2022’s unprecedented total.
Roughly 172,000 are refugees from Ukraine, Hong Kong and Afghanistan. We SHOULD be taking them in.
There are huge numbers of students, many with family members in tow, whose university fees are worth billions to Britain and most of whom leave after their courses.
Hundreds of thousands more are working, mainly keeping the NHS running.
And some 76,000 asylum-seekers have been added to the migration total for the first time.
But just think about the needs and demands of 606,000 newcomers arriving in Britain.
Glasgow, with a similar population, has 298,847 homes, 30 secondary schools, 140 primaries, nine major hospitals and 240 GP practices.
We would need to plan and build that sort of infrastructure every year just to stand still.
Are we doing so? Of course not. The public is simply expected to soak up the pressure — and the results are all around us:
Soaring rents and house prices, horrendous NHS waiting lists, falling living standards generally.
A sense that nothing much works. We place no blame at all on legal migrants themselves.
And of course immigration is not solely to blame for these problems.
But such massive numbers ARE a crushing weight on a country already on its knees thanks to Covid and the dire economic effects of Russia’s war.
We back Rishi Sunak’s plan to ban foreign students below PhD-level from bringing their families too. Those totals have boomed.
There may also be merit in Labour’s idea to bar firms who are struggling to hire staff from taking on foreign workers at 20 per cent below the going rate.
Whether that would encourage them to train Brits instead is anyone’s guess, as is how it would be policed, but it’s worth considering.
Those are tweaks, though. We need major change.
The relaxation of benefit checks and restrictions during the Covid lockdowns proved a killer blow to the jobs “miracle” conjured by David Cameron’s Government from 2010 in the bleak aftermath of the global crash.
That guaranteed work would pay better than the dole.
It ended the corrosive benefits culture under Labour in which entire streets were left to languish miserably on perpetual handouts.
Now, though, we find ourselves back there.
A staggering 3.7million are on jobless benefits without any requirement to seek work — half a million more than before Covid.
They are judged too sick, and exempted from training or attending any work-related interviews.
Claims for mental health problems and incapacitating joint pain have soared.
Some will be genuinely unable to work. Some, though, are wrongly written off.
Some would be worse off in work
Others simply choose idleness, having got a taste for it when the Government paid half the country to stay home during lockdowns.
With benefits rising by ten per cent to match soaring inflation — and wages not doing so — there is even less incentive to find a job.
Some would be worse off in work and losing their handouts. That is madness.
Ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, architect of Universal Credit, says: “We’ve got a real problem. There is no reason why many of these people should not be in work.” He’s right.
The Left may consider generous benefits compassionate . . . but for many they can be the opposite.
A ticket to a wasted life.
It is staggering that Keir Starmer — the man who was still championing “free movement” even AFTER Brexit — is now managing to pose as tougher than the Tories on immigration.
Anyone who thinks a Labour Government would slash numbers and toughen up welfare checks will be sorely disappointed.
But Starmer is merely seizing the opportunity gifted to him by the Tories’ failure.
The Government needs credible answers to all this.
How will ministers wean our firms off immigration and prise millions off the dole and into work?
And where is the colossal infrastructure upgrade we already need to cope with the explosion in our population?
Fixing this is fundamental to our future, our economic prospects and even the stability of our country.
We must get Britain working again.