My New Year Column for the Morley Observer

Happy New Year to all Morley Observer readers.

2014 has been a busy year. As well as hundreds of regular surgeries and appointments across the constituency, I’ve held meetings across my constituency on issues ranging from the rising cost of living to social care and the NHS. But one of the biggest issues raised with me by local people in my Morley office has been immigration. From conversations on local doorsteps to letters and emails, this has been a huge issue this year. I have been arguing for some years that we need stronger immigration controls and reforms to make the system fair. And that’s why I wanted to ‎know what detailed reforms local people think are needed.

So during the course of this year I’ve held a series of public meetings across the constituency with well over 300 local people taking part in person and around 2,500 sending me their views via surveys online or through their door. It’s enabled me to understand where people are coming from in much more detail.

What is clear from all the work I’ve done is that almost everyone feels this is an important issue for them and their family. And most of those who’ve been in touch also recognise that immigration is generally not always bad or always good. What they want to see are tougher controls and a system in place that can really benefit the economy and support our key public services.

There have been three main issues to come out of my work on this locally, all of which I’ve been using to inform my work in Westminster.

Firstly people want our border controls to be strengthened and a proper system in place to count people in and exit checks to make sure people leave when their visa expires.

Secondly people have told me that skilled migration is different to unskilled migration – especially when there are job vacancies to be filled. However, although people understand the need for skilled immigration in areas such as science or the NHS, they also felt strongly that employers who need to fill highly skilled vacancies in the short-term, should also be made to invest in these skills in the UK workforce for the longer term.

And thirdly, when it comes to unskilled labour, people’s views were much more mixed, with a great deal of concern about the impact on wages. Nevertheless, in spite of their concerns, most felt that people coming to the UK should expect to be contributing to our economy – working and paying taxes into the system – before they could expect to have access to our welfare system. Equally, there was widespread agreement that anyone who didn’t follow our laws should expect to be asked to leave the country.

Since the summer I’ve been taking forward the issues people have raised with me and calling on the Government to tighten our rules.

Specifically on tax and benefit rules, I’ve been calling for people to have to work longer before they can claim unemployment benefit and for changes to be introduced to prevent people claiming child benefit or tax credits to children and families who are not living in the UK.

My colleagues in the Shadow Cabinet have recently announced that people coming to Britain should not qualify for benefits until they have been here at least 2 years.

And specifically on European Union immigration we need to make sure we have a strong voice in Europe to ensure people’s concerns about the undercutting of wages can be acted on. We need to make sure existing rules are being enforced. And employers who exploit migrant workers, undercut the minimum wage and avoid proper rights at work need to be exposed and prosecuted.

In other areas much more progress is still needed. Specifically we still need investment in our borders controls and visa enforcement to tackle illegal immigration. I want to see new visa charges introduced in order to pay for 1,000 more border guards.

And for the next generation in our workforce we need to make sure we do more to help them get on and do well. It’s not right that the number of apprenticeships is falling for our young people when so many need access to high quality training and apprenticeships to get good jobs.

In 2015 I will keep on the pressure on this and other issues people raise with me locally. Anyone who wants to get in touch should email me ed@edballs.com or 0113 253 9466.

And you can read the results of my survey here: Immigration survey results.pub

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Posted December 31st, 2014 by Ed's team