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Britain’s Post-Brexit Meritocracy

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The 2017 general election showed that many young people are rejecting Conservativism and even capitalism itself. If we are to build a more socially mobile post-Brexit society we need to ensure that Margaret Thatcher’s popular capitalism can prevail once more. Employment and wage prospects can be significantly improved for the low paid in a post-Brexit world as Britain will be in control of its own destiny.

In the supposedly golden era of the 2000s under New Labour, employment grew but somewhat paradoxically so did economic inactivity amongst British citizens. By 2010, over 5 million working age Britons were economically inactive as the welfare budget had nearly doubled, so had the number of worklessness families. The strategy under New Labour was to leave British people on benefits and replace them with an unprecedented wave of migrants, mainly low-skilled, who would take the majority of jobs that were being created.

Since the Conservatives took office in 2010, employment has reached record levels. Thankfully, the majority of those who have gained employment have been British as income and corporation tax cuts, alongside welfare reform incentivised many to seek employment. But with our economy creating more jobs than the rest of the EU put together between 2010-15, huge numbers of EU workers came to Britain to improve their prospects. With countries such as Greece reaching 60% youth unemployment and Spain and Portugal not far behind, we cannot blame these young people for wanting to better themselves.

I think immigration is fantastic for our country. I am massively pro-immigration but this does not mean I am pro-mass immigration. I spent 5 years working in McDonald’s, therefore I worked with people from all over the world. They were hard working, generous and friendly. Yet I did often think to myself, at a time when nearly 1 million British young people were out of work, didn’t they deserve more of a chance? I understood youth unemployment would always be high if there was an unlimited amount of labour allowed to come to work in Britain.

With the vote to leave in 2016, there has not been a ‘brexodus’ of EU workers as many of the best and brightest are still attracted to Britain. Looking at unemployment overall, the doomongers have been proven completely wrong as it continues to fall and is the lowest since 1975. However, across too many sectors it is clear that the minimum wage has become the maximum wage. If there is an oversupply of low-skilled labour from Europe, then what pressure is there for big businesses to give workers a pay rise? With low-skilled immigration falling throughout the last year, we are beginning to see wages rise and this should strengthen in the coming years as numbers continue to fall.

Although I’ve focused on unemployment and wages there are many other positive factors that leaving the EU will have on social mobility. With low-skilled immigration being cut, businesses will be incentivised to invest in training up our young people through T-levels and apprenticeships. With the pound fluctuating and exports becoming more competitive, we can look to higher skilled jobs being created in our manufacturing sector as the economy rebalances. With fewer densely populated areas, our public services should come under less strain especially when it comes to school places and social housing. Although we must not forget the crucial role migrants play in our NHS and in social care.

It’s important to remember that in the 1970s Britain was nicknamed the ‘sick man of Europe’. Incredibly, more people were leaving the country than arriving. We are now in a situation where the opposite is true with net migration currently over 280,000. This shows that even after the Brexit vote, we are still fundamentally an attractive destination for migrants. But going forward we will be able to control the quality and quantity of those who wish to come here. Quality is the key; this is why I think the government should take students out of the immigration figures. They pay high tuition fees, support our economy and commit virtually no crime. This would be a great signal to send to the world that we are open to the brightest who wish to study and work in Britain. At the same time, it is imperative that low-skilled immigration is reduced so wages, employment opportunities and therefore social mobility will increase for the lowest paid.

About Paul Maginnis

Profile photo of Paul Maginnis
Paul Maginnis is a Conservative Party member, and author of The Return of Meritocracy: Conservative Ideas for Unlocking Social Mobility.

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