Immigration and British Citizens by Jean Calder


I’ve been interested to read responses to one of my recent blogs, Labour Fails to Listen. 

In his comment, Jim Grozier disagreed with what I’d said about immigration. He wrote: “I have a major problem with one paragraph, and one phrase in particular – “the rights of British people” – sent a shiver down my spine.” He added “Surely the only rights British people have are *human* rights – the same rights that the immigrants have – so why should British people be favoured over non-British people?”

I find these ideas fascinating. I am an immigrant. I remain immensely grateful to the UK for taking me in in 1972 and for providing me with a better and safer life than I would have had in South Africa. I’ve worked hard since I’ve been here and, like most immigrants,  have tried to give something back. However, back in the 1970s I never for one moment thought I had a right to the same services and benefits as British-born people. It simply would never have occurred to me, given that neither my parents nor I had contributed, by our work or our taxes.  

I worked for three years in order to gain what was then called ‘resident status’ and then went to Sussex University as a mature student on a full grant. I will always be grateful for this. However, if the government of the time had decided that immigrants like me needed to work for  five or seven years rather than three, because British born people needed the places or because the country couldn’t afford it, I would have accepted it. I wouldn’t have liked it, but it would have seemed to me fair and completely reasonable that the country should look after its own young people first. I’ve never had any difficulty with this notion, though I would expect that after a certain period of legal residence and contribution, rights would equalise.

It seems strange to suggest that British citizenship should bring with it no rights other than basic human rights. As Britons, we don’t live in a supranational European state or a world without borders. The nation state still exists and so long as it does, continues to confer particular rights and responsibilities on its citizens. This is true in all countries, not just our own. It seems to me absurd to suggest that national governments should, in all circumstances, give equal weight to the well being of visitors or settlers, whatever the hardship this may cause to the people of the host nation. 

Tony Greenstein commented that apparent concern about immigrants’ undercutting wages “has been the staple argument of racists for over 120 years.” He is right, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t in some cases true. My point is that, over several years, an unscrupulous political elite in the UK developed a deliberate strategy of bringing in workers for the purpose of undercutting wages and conditions and undermining unionised labour. Unskilled jobs which could have been carried out by British people were, quite legally, advertised abroad rather than in the UK. Skill shortages were not addressed by a state education and training establishment, which, over decades, failed to prepare indigenous workers for key trades and professions, for example in building, nursing and medicine. One result is an NHS staffed by low-paid agency workers with poor English – and well-paid doctors from abroad, who could perhaps have better served their countries by working at home.  

Jim ended his comment by recalling MP Dennis Skinner’s Commons speech in which he attacked UKIP MPs and referred to what he called his “United Nations heart bypass” operation. He said: “..it was done by a Syrian cardiologist, a Malaysian surgeon, a Dutch doctor, a Nigerian registrar, and these two people here talk about sending them back from whence they came. And if they did that in the hospitals in London, half of London would be dead in six months.”

It was a moving and amusing speech and a wonderful piece of polemic, but Skinner should surely also have asked why our very wealthy country fails to train enough people to staff its NHS. After all, tiny cash-strapped Cuba manages to produce enough doctors and nurses to meet its own needs and has for decades been able to export them, as required, to war zones and disaster areas around the world. I have to ask, if they can do it, why can’t we?

I’ll respond to Tony’s comments about Lutfur Rahman and islamophobia, Ireland and feminism at a later date.
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Social Care is Nursing Care  By Jean Calder

All major political parties seem to agree that the NHS is a ‘treasure’ and must remain free at the point of use. Politicians differ as to the extent the private sector should be involved in delivering services, but it’s taken for granted that the care of the sick is currently free and that charging applies only to dentistry and prescriptions. In fact, this is an outrageous lie – a political con trick played on the British people. 

When I first came to England in 1972, most general hospitals had what were then called ‘geriatric wards’ for elderly patients with long term needs. There were also psycho-geriatric wards for those with dementia, where the assumption was that patients would almost certainly remain until death. Until the government closed them, every county had a large psychiatric hospital and there were large numbers of specialist hospitals for people with learning disabilities or dementia. These institutions were run by the NHS and most had the capacity to accommodate people until death.

No one would mourn the loss of the old geriatric wards and long stay hospitals. They were horribly institutional and though some were well run, providing good care and genuine ‘asylum’, others fostered abuses of power as bad as anything we’ve seen more recently in some care homes. However, the one thing you could say for all of them is that they were there, free at the point of delivery and were part of a genuinely national NHS which had not yet been divided into competing trusts.

These wards and hospitals were ripe for reform, but in the 1980s and 1990s, instead of being improved or replaced, were nearly all closed, while inadequate housing and community services were provided for future need. Patients were denied nursing care by the simple expedient of pretending they didn’t need it. Instead, elderly people requiring 24 hour care for complex illnesses, such as dementia and Parkinson’s, were told that the care required was ‘personal care’ rather than nursing care and thus not the responsibility of the NHS. 

It can hardly be co-incidence that around the same time, the State Enrolled Nursing qualification, which had trained practical nurses to provide basic and essential nursing services (services which would certainly have been recognised as nursing by Florence Nightingale), was phased out. SENs were offered the chance of upgrading their qualifications and required to undertake duties which were previously the responsibility of more highly trained Registered Nurses. Basic nursing care for patients – including essential tasks such as maintaining personal cleanliness, providing bedpans and ensuring patients eat and drink – was devolved to under-trained, poorly paid and badly supervised care assistants, with disastrous results.

The policy of so called ‘community care’ decimated services for vulnerable adults, replacing much of it with inadequate privatised housing and support services. Older people, in particular, were forced to make do with limited access to means-tested council care services or private ‘care packages’, paid for by the local authority (or by themselves if they had assets of their own). Private companies made a killing from services which were at best inadequate and at worst life-threateningly bad.

In theory, those at the end of life or with complex needs, have a right to NHS funding for appropriate residential care in the community (known as NHS Continuing Care funding). In reality, few receive it. The NHS does all it can to prevent widespread access to these funds by the simple means of: failing to publicise the existence of the funds; turning down most applications, forcing families to appeal; making the application process extraordinarily time-consuming, opaque and complex so that legal advice is often required; failing to properly educate health professionals and care home managers, whose notes are crucially important in progressing these applications; and, when applications fail, relying on local authorities and families to take up the financial slack.

Lawyers who work in this field say they quite often have to advise patients with a clear right to funded nursing care, that the financial risks of pursuing an unsuccessful application and then having to appeal would be too great – especially if means-tested funding is available from the local authority. In this way, cash strapped local councils are forced unwittingly to subsidise both the NHS and private care companies – while patients are often denied the skilled nursing care they need. 

The situation is a scandal – but not one I heard addressed in the General Election campaign. I fear that, under cover of reorganisation and recent cross-party talk about integration of nursing and care services, NHS Continuing Care funding may, by sleight of hand, quietly be abolished. 

After all, how can we defend a service most of us never knew we had?


Stormin’ Norman and the Curse of the Coalition Government

I’m not one for making predictions, as my regular readers (Warren, Momma Grizzly, Councillor Christopher, and Biker Dave) will testify, but I have a premonition about the future fortunes of the Lib Dem Member of Parliament for Lewes, Norman Baker. I can feel it it my waters that his time on the Green Benches (the colour, not the party) may be limited.

Actually, there is speculation about his future in several quarters, not least in the pages of Latest 7 magazine and in Brighton and Hove News in articles written by one of the nicest and most principled journalists around, Frank le Duc.

So why should Stormin’ Norman’s future look so uncertain? Well, for a start, he is a Lib Dem, and as my regular readers (the said WM, MG, CH & BD) will know, I have had my doubts about the Lib Dems. Apart from being untrustworthy, lacking backbone, two-faced, unprincipled, deserving to be confined to the dustbin of history, I think they are rather a decent bunch.

The Lib Dems are facing meltdown at the next general election for several reasons:

For helping to create the Coalition Government and thereby allow the Tories to run the country without a mandate;

For betraying their pledge on tuition fees;

For standing by while the privatisation of the NHS has begun;

etc. etc. etc.

And Stormin’ Norman’s part in this is not great. He betrayed his own written pledge on tuition fees, he agreed to become a Minister in this government that is implementing policies that were not in either party’s manifesto nor in the Coalition Agreement, and his government is bumping up rail fares (something that will not go unpunished by commuters in the Lewes constituency). On the issue of rail fares, Stormin’ Norman not only remained silent, he is the Transport Minister responsible for rail!

But it isn’t all bleak for him, as Frank le Duc has suggested, Lord Baker of Lewes is a likely reward for his loyal service to the Coalition. However, that would be a sorry end for someone who inspired so much hope as an anti-establishment MP in his early career.

A Big Challenge to Brighton & Hove Tories: Do you believe in the Big Society?

David Cameron has failed one of the first tests of politics. If you have a Big Idea and nobody gets it, try to drop it quietly.  Cameron’s Big Idea is the Big Society and not even his mother likes it.  The problem is, nobody understands what the brand is.

Cuts in funding to national and local government, to schools, the NHS and to charities has resulted that the idea has been rejected at birth.

Cameron has said that the Big Society is “my absolute passion”.  Norman Smith, the BBC’s chief political correspondent, said “The Big Society is crucial to David Cameron’s political prospects precisely because it is his Big Idea, his “mission”.  The danger therefore if it flops is that he will be personally identified with that failure and Tory MPs will point accusing fingers towards him for not focusing on a more clear cut, traditional Conservative message.”

But before that, I have a Big Challenge to local Big Conservatives (Rachael Bates, Rob Buckwell et al): What the heck is the Big Society.  Please can one of you explain what your Great Leader is on about, is the Big Society going to feature in May’s local election campaign, and do you want to pledge your unqualified support to Cameron and to his Big Idea?