Come Back

In the opinion of Hippocrates: “whenever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm.” And, when one thinks of the notorious Harold Shipman, a British doctor who was convicted of murdering 15 of his patients, although evidence suggests the true figure might be nearer to 250, this seems like good advice. Thankfully, the harm (if harm it be) being done by Polish doctors is, in the opinion of Witold Sobkow, the Polish Ambassador to the United Kingdom (technically to the Court of St. James, for those of you seeking diplomatic precision) is limited to their non-presence in Poland.

During an interview with the Daily Telegraph, in the context of British government plans to restrict the benefits available to migrants, the ambassador said that these measures were unlikely to reduce the numbers of Polish workers in the UK as they come to the UK for the work not for the benefits. He also said that it is a “wrong assumption” that migrants from Poland are low-skilled, or that that people just sit at home in Poland and start calculating ‘how much I can lose or how much I can gain’. Many move to the West because they are “very wealthy” scientists who want to work in better-equipped laboratories, he said. Indeed, Poland is currently trying to attract professional folk back to Poland, including the thousands of medical staff who work for the NHS. “We want them back. We have lost 2,300 doctors to Britain,” Sobkow said. “They were educated for free in Poland, so we want them back.”

Witold Sobkow makes a good point. Too little attention is paid, in the great immigration debate, to the effect of emigration on the countries left behind, especially those poorer, Third World countries. While the NHS – for a long time Europe’s largest employer after the Red Army, and too often with a similar attitude to customer care – vacuums up doctors and nurses wherever it can fund them, little thought is given to countries where these folk were trained and for whose own health services they represent a vital, and virtually irreplaceable resource.

Be that as it may, the plans being studied by the Government, drawn up by think tank Open Europe, would impose a two-year ban on in-work benefits to migrants, which include tax rebates, benefits for housing and social accommodation. Open Europe claims that by preventing EU migrants from claiming these benefits, the UK would be a far less attractive destination to immigrants. In this context “benefits tourism” is a distraction because only a small proportion of migrants moving to Britain fail to take up work, with 2.5 per cent of total unemployment benefit claimants being EU migrants, according to statistics from February 2014.

However the “generous” in-work benefits system was “far more significant”, in boosting the financial incentive for migrants from EU member states to move. For example, while an average Polish worker might earns almost £40 a week more by taking up a low-paid job in the UK, without the in-work benefits that same worker would earn around £55 less from such a move.

The British Government is, alas, being disingenuous in this whole debate. First, many of the problems are largely of its own making by continually failing to administer the benefits system efficiently and effectively – as do all other EU countries – and by failing to control the border effectively. Second, why so much emphasis on EU migration about which, under current EU arrangements, David Cameron is able to do little and which, for most folk, is not problematic, while so little on non-EU migration which the government is able to control and which folk do find more worrying? One might also reasonably ask why large international corporations should continue to be able legally to avoid paying UK corporation tax on significant activities in the UK, while offering low pay and zero hours contracts to their employees, knowing that these will be topped up by in-work benefits paid for by the very taxpayer to whose burden they are singularly unwilling to contribute. This downward pressure on wages also spills over into the immigration/benefits debate, causing fear and insecurity where nonesuch need exist.

In other words, and to return to where we started: “Physician, heal thyself.”

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