Which UK cities will suffer most from the end of Freedom of Movement?

Cambridge: well, this is all stuffed, for a start. Image: Getty.

Theresa May’s government has been unclear and uncertain about almost everything to do with life after Brexit: whether Britain would remain in the customs union or single market; whether it’ll mean a bigger state or a smaller one; even whether it will make us poorer. (The prime minister has repeatedly refused to say “no”.)

On one matter, though, May and her minions have remained entirely consistent: Brexit means an end to freedom of movement. All those foreigners coming over here, fixing our plumbing, picking our fruit, caring for our elderly? We’re finished with ‘em. Go on, sling your hook.

This is bad in about 16 different ways, of course. It’s bad because it’s meant two years of uncertainty for three million European people who’ve made their lives here, not to mention their partners, children and friends. It’s bad because it means revoking the rights of British citizens, not just those of perfidious foreigners, and nobody seems, even now, to have given much thought to the question of what happens to those Britons who live on the continent. And it’s catastrophic in the way that it’s given succour to a far right that’s now unshakeably convinced that approximately 52 per cent of the electorate are exactly as racist as they are.

But there’s another, more immediately quantifiable way in which ending freedom of movement is bad: it’s going to knacker the economy. And, not for the first time, we have figures.

The Centre for Cities think tank recently published a report quantifying the contribution EU migrants made to the economies of the major English and Welsh urban areas. It found, in an entirely unshocking revelation, EU migrants were more likely to be in work than their UK-born neighbours (70 per cent compared to 58 per cent). They’re also better qualified (33 per cent have degrees, compared to 26 per cent of Brits).

As much as I love immigrants, this disparity is unlikely to speak of any great superiority in moral character. Rather, I suspect, is’s accounted for largely by age: younger people are both more likely to have jobs and degrees, and to skip countries in search of economic opportunity. But it nonetheless means that EU migrants make up an unusually productive slice of the UK’s population.

You can see this in which cities are going to be hit hardest by any reduction of EU migration, too. Britain’s most productive cities, those which contribute most to the country’s taxbase, are those of what the Centre terms the “Greater South East”: London and its satellites, Oxford, Cambridge and so on. Which cities do you imagine have the greatest number of EU27-born residents?

In what seems unlikely to be a coincidence, and with a couple of notable exceptions (Peterborough, Luton, Bradford), those cities are both a lot richer and a lot less Brexit-y than the bottom 10:

From one point of view – the wrong one, but a point of view, nonetheless – the “problem” of EU migration is solving itself. The Centre for Cities’ report also noted that EU migration to Britain’s cities has already slumped, in 51 out of the 58 English and Welsh cities surveyed.


But as the research suggests, in terms of the economy, freedom of movement was never a problem in the first place: quite the opposite. In fact, that slump in the number of in-comers “raises serious concerns about the ability of these cities to prosper if restrictions on migration increase post-Brexit”.

The report concludes that there is a serious risk that Brexit will lead to labour shortages – and that the government’s “no deal” plans should include a two-year extension of freedom of movement to avoid them. Since the government’s commitment to ending freedom of movement is its single, most steadfast commitment, and since its no deal plans are invisible to the naked eye anyway, I am not entirely convinced this will happen.

This is not the first report which has made the argument that freedom of movement, far from being a drain on the British economy, is one of the key things propping it up. It’s highly unlikely to be the last, either. And yet, we are told that, whatever else happens, freedom of movement absolutely must end.

The government’s entire Brexit strategy, if you can call it such, has been built on a single, questionable assumption: that the British electorate cares more about cutting immigration than it did about the national economy.

There is one, tiny upside to this entire clusterfuck: if that assumption was wrong, we really won’t be waiting long to find out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

This article previously appeared on our sister site, the New Statesman.

 
 
 
 

Five ways in which the rest of the world can avoid the homelessness crisis plaguing the US

Housing for all. Image: Nicobobinus/Flickr/creative commons.

Homelessness is a growing problem in the UK, where the number of people sleeping rough has doubled since 2010, yet it is dwarfed by the scale of the issue in the US. More than 500,000 homeless were found across the US during just one night, compared to the UK’s 2017 count of 4,751. Changes in the definition of homelessness and flawed methodologies suggest that the true number for the US could be anywhere from 2.5 to 10.2 times greater.

Millions more live in overcrowded or slum housing, forced to choose between the damage that poor conditions do to their physical and mental health, and the street. All of the US’s housing issues – from foreclosures to evictions to poor conditions – hit communities of colour the hardest.

This is due to a legacy of discrimination, which continues to undercut any commitment to safe and decent housing for all residents, whether in the private or public sector. In my recent book, City of Segregation, I explain how the long, violent history of creating spaces for the white and privileged classes is embedded in a number of practices, which continue in US cities to this day.

Exporting inequality

As private developers and investors seek out urban land in major cities around the world to secure their fortunes, real estate patterns and practices developed within the US are increasingly being observed elsewhere.

In cities as diverse as London, Sydney and Durban, community groups which have been working for decades to improve their neighbourhoods languish with little public or private resource. Meanwhile, developers create spaces for foreign investors and new residents, who anticipate certain protections and privileges such as greater security, high quality amenities and neighbours with similar interests and backgrounds.

This is a driving force behind rising evictions and the criminalisation of homelessness, alongside gated communities, hostile architecture, “broken windows” policing with its focus on prosecuting activities such as graffiti or jaywalking and the growing privatisation of public spaces through regeneration.

But there is still time for other countries to choose a different path. The UK, in particular, can build on the legacies of the post-war political consensus that all residents should have access to quality housing, and its acknowledgement of institutional racism and some history of government anti-racist campaigning.

Both legacies should be improved, but a renewed commitment to a programme of housing and anti-racism are central to increasing equality, prosperity and well-being for all. Based on my research, I’ve come up with five steps which the UK and countries like it can follow, to ensure that future development reduces – rather than drives – homelessness and inequality.


1. Build social housing

Unlike the US, the UK acknowledges a right to a home, and within living memory provided it for a huge swathe of British society. Social housing – whether in the form of traditional council flats, cooperatives or community land trusts – provides a variety of housing types and keeps rents from rising too far beyond wages.

When social housing is widely available, it makes a huge difference to people who – for one reason or another, and often through no fault of their own – become homeless. With social housing to fall back on, homelessness is a temporary condition which can be safely resolved. Without it, homelessness can become a life-destroying downwards spiral.

2. Preserve and expand community assets

Severe segregation in the US stripped entire communities of access to quality food, jobs, education, green spaces, services, banks and loans. Poverty is endemic, and can easily tip into homelessness. While far from perfect, the UK’s post-war commitment to universal provision of services, such as education and health care, and building social housing across all neighbourhoods underpinned a surge in upward mobility.

This achievement should be salvaged from the damage done by Right To Buy – a policy which sold off social housing without replacing it – and austerity, which has prompted a sell-off of public assets and land, as well as the closure of childrens’ services, libraries and community centres.

3. Decommodify housing

A market geared towards building apartment blocks for the portfolios of investors who will never live in them cannot produce the kind of housing and neighbourhoods which residents need, much less at a price they can afford.

While London has been badly affected for some time, this trend is now spreading to other areas of the UK and Europe. Local and national governments must act to prevent global demand for housing as investments from driving prices beyond the reach of those who need real homes.

4. Build communities, not walls

Gates, bars, armed security and homeowner restrictions are all ugly traits of private housing developed within the US context of desperate inequality and racism. The UK has a long and vibrant tradition of community development, creating a supportive built environment and social infrastructure of schools, libraries and other municipal services for residents.

Community assets. Image: Helen K/Flickr/creative commons.

This kind of development, and the social mobility and growing equality it fosters, safeguards public health and safety – not big walls, barbed wire and security guards. The private rented sector in the UK should be regulated to bring it more in line with Europe, where tenants prosper with security of tenure and strong regulation of rents and rent increases.

5. Raise your voice

Those who are bearing the brunt of our current housing crisis must be at the centre of efforts to change it. From tenants’ associations and renters’ unions, to campaign groups such as Justice for Grenfell, it’s vital to support those voices advocating fairer housing rights.

This also means rejecting austerity’s constant cuts to public services, funding social support for physical and mental health and ensuring that homes are safe, decent and secure, to create a safety net for those who are working to improve their communities.

The Conversation

Andrea Gibbons, Researcher in Sustainable Housing and Urban Studies, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.