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I have some sympathy with what the Home Secretary said—it is not unreasonable to ask people to abide by the law—and I have a lot of sympathy with the comments of my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham, the shadow Home Secretary. He said that on immigration Westminster was out of touch and that MPs had not kept up with public concerns. He also said that there was an overall net benefit from immigration, but that the effect was not uniform. Former industrial areas such as mine suffer the impact of job insecurity and depression of wages. There are specific and legitimate concerns about that. My right hon. Friend said it, and he was right.
For my constituency, immigration is not about public services, the NHS or schools. There are 2,000 empty properties in my constituency, but it is not about that, either. Those are southern issues. The problem is that the economy is unbalanced between north and south, which means that my constituency area suffers from low wages and an economy that is not doing well. My constituents want me to raise legitimate concerns about wages, about the north, and about areas and constituencies such as mine that have low wages.
Young people in my constituency go to university; they leave, and we have a brain drain. Immigration comes in, and the workers are replaced by low-skilled migrants. We have a low-skilled workforce. Employers come to my constituency, but they see that there are no high-skilled workers, so they will not end up in Hyndburn. What we get in the end are low-skill employers because they see that there is a high volume of low-skilled workers. What we have is a vicious and perpetuating circle that needs to be broken. Yes, Hyndburn needs immigration, but it desperately needs high-skilled immigration, not low-skilled immigration. As I said, this vicious circle needs to be broken if the economy of my constituency is to benefit.
This suppression of wages is unacceptable. My constituents are right to raise the issue. It reinforces the appeal of Hyndburn to low-value employers rather than high-value employers. High-value employers look at the jobs market and the skills base and find that Hyndburn is not a place in which they can locate their business. That affects the incomes of my constituents and their job opportunities.
My constituents’ grievance is much worse than that, however. Last year, unemployment rose in my constituency month on month—and according to the Treasury, this is supposed to be during the boom years. Everything is supposed to be going well. In eight of the last nine months, unemployment in my constituency has risen, yet we are being asked to take more low-skilled workers. It is obvious what the net impact will be.
Let us take the example of taxi drivers. Driving a taxi is the second largest form of employment in the borough of Hyndburn. There are more than 600 taxi drivers in the borough, and probably another 150 if I include Haslingden. That is more than 700 taxi drivers. Let me talk about the sort of life that these taxi drivers lead. The fare around most of my constituency is £1.50, and the taxi drivers have to live off that. If they go further afield, they get £2.50. My taxi drivers have a terrible lifestyle. They struggle to make ends meet and most of them are on tax credits. This is the working environment that Hyndburn faces. If we bring in more low-skilled and uneducated migrants, they are likely to veer towards driving taxis or a similar occupation, which will only exacerbate the problem. It is not fair to the people already on these low wages; it is not fair on Hyndburn; and it is not going to rebalance the economy.