Posts Tagged ‘‘Empire to Welfare State: English History 1906-1985’’

Academic Historian T.O. Lloyd on British Immigration Policy After World War III

August 8, 2022

I’ve turned to T.O. Lloyd’s Empire to Welfare State: English History 1906-1985, 3rd edition (Oxford: OUP 1986) to try and make sense of Simon Webb’s claims that the Windrush migrants weren’t invited here, but were merely taking advantage of cheap cabins, and that London Transport appealed to Caribbean bus drivers to migrate in order alleviate political unrest in Barbados and Jamaica. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find anything about these claims one way or another, but the history, published as part of the ‘Short Oxford History of the Modern World’, does contain some interesting snippets of information about immigration policy in this period. For example, he writes of the the wave of immigration in the 50s

‘Citizens from Commonwealth countries had always been allowed to enter England freely, but they had not made much use of this right before the 1950s. Citizens of the white Commonwealth occasionally came on shorter or longer visits, but nobody took any notice. In the fifties a flow of West Indians, Indians,, and Pakistanis began to come to England. From the economist’s point of view the country seemed to have found a fund of labour to draw on in the way West Germany drew on East Germany and Italy, or France and Italy drew on their underemployed agricultural labour. This development was not welcomed by the people who found themselves living near the immigrants. Occasionally it was suggested that immigrants took low wages and undercut the market rate, and it was sometimes said they were violent and noisy. While some of them were bachelors earning more than they had ever earned before, behaved as might be expected, most of them were quiet people with fairly strict ideas about family life. The hostility to them came simply from a feeling that black men were undesirable, just as Irish Catholics had been though undesirable in the 19th century and European aliens had aroused hostility earlier in the 20th century because they were different. The shortage of housing made matters worse; the immigrants were blamed for it, and then were blamed for living in slums. The Immigration Bill was welcomed by public opinion although it was condemned by a good deal of the Conservative press and by the Labour party. It allowed immigrants to come if they had certain skills, or if they had relations in the country, or if they had jobs waiting for them. The sentiment of liberally minded people was against the Bill partly on grounds of humane feeling and partly to promote economic growth., but most of these humane and tolerant people did not understand that other people, who were relatively uneducated and unaccustomed to novelty suffered real problems when immigrants came and lived near them.’ (p. 199).

Lloyd also writes about the shortage of labour created by the national plan of 1964, and the effects this had on immigration policy. It’s a lengthy passage, but I think it’s worth reproducing in full.

‘The point at which the planners had most clearly not accepted the constraints of reality was the supply of labour. They had accepted a target of expanding the national income by 23 per cent by 1970s, which meant a rate of growth of a fraction under 4 per cent, but their figures showed that to do this about 200,000 more workers were needed than seemed likely to be available. The prices and incomes policy was intended to check the tendency to inflation that had persisted in the economy ever since Beveridge’s definition of full employment – more vacant jobs than workers to fill them – had been tacitly accepted, but no incomes policy could prevent a rise in wages if there was a steady demand for 200,000 workers than could be found. Employers would naturally bid against each other, by offering higher wages or fringe benefits. If it was carried out, the National Plan would reproduce the very high level of demand that had existed under the 1945-51 Labour government, without the stringent physical controls that had been available just after the war. The government had in 1964 forbidden further office development in London, but in general it was ready to operate the economy with very little compulsion. This may have reassured economists that effort could not be diverted into the wrong channels by government decree, but it did leave open the possibility that a shortage of labour would lead to large wage increases.

More workers could easily have been found: Commonwealth citizens from the West Indies, India, and Pakistan were ready and eager to come. During the election the question of Commonwealth immigration had been lurking just below the surface, but the results suggest that the Labour party lost three or four seats on the issue in areas where there had been a certain amount of immigration and where local conditions of life were generally unpleasant enough to make the voters want to blame somebody. The bad housing conditions in Smethwick or Slough were not the fault of the immigrants, but the inhabitants thought differently and were influenced by the slogan ‘If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour’.

Tension and dissatisfaction over immigration rose after the election, with some Conservatives suggesting that their party ought to take a more determined stand against immigration than it had done in the Commonwealth Immigration Act. The government decided that it could not hold the existing position, and issued a White Paper indicating the way it would interpret the Commonwealth Immigration Act in the future. The policy laid down was decidedly more restrictive than in the past, at least so far as entry to the country was concerned; the White Paper also suggested ways in which the immigrants might be cared for more effectively once they were inside the country, and legislation against discrimination in public places was passed. Some people argued that legislation was not the best way to deal with the problem, though in fact other countries faced with the same situation had, in the end, fallen back on legislation after feeling at first that there must be less formal ways of acting.

The White Paper stated that no more than 8,500 Commonwealth immigrants, of whom 1,000 would be from Malta, were to be allowed work permits every year. All questions about freedom of movement and Commonwealth solidarity apart, this closed one of the ways in which the labour shortage revealed in the National Plan might have been made up. Rapid economic growth has, more often than not, been associated with rapid increase of the working population; there was no underemployed rural population in England to draw into the economy, as there was in the countries of Europe that had been thriving since the war, but an inflow of people from the underdeveloped parts of the Commonwealth might have enabled the economy to grow as intended. Public opposition to immigration was not inspired by a conscious choice between growth and keeping England white, because most of the people who opposed immigration did not realize that they had such a choice before them, but this was the effect of the policy in the White Paper.'(pp. 397-9).

These passages don’t say anything about whether there was a labour shortage in the immediate aftermath of the war, which immigrants from the Caribbean came to fill. But it does say that there a labour shortage created by the 1964 National Plan, which was prevented from being filled by opposition to immigration.

I looked through the book to see what sources Lloyd used for the pieces on immigration. In those chapters, he seemed to have relied on Paul Foot’s Race and Immigration in Britain of 1964.

There might be more information in more recent treatments of the issue, like Bloody Foreigners: Immigration and the English.

G.R. Askwith on the Labour Exchanges, Modern Job Centres and the Deliberate Creation of an ‘Reserve Army of the Unemployed’

March 7, 2016

I found a very interesting little snippet in T.O. Lloyd’s Empire to Welfare State: English History 1906-1985 3rd Edition (Oxford: OUP 1986). On page 16 he discusses how the Liberal government in 1908 set up the Labour Exchanges as a way of putting prospective employers and unemployed workers in contact with each other. He notes, however, that G.R. Askwith, who was the leading negotiator in labour disputes at the time, was later quite critical of them. He believed they made it too easy for employers to return to the Nineteenth century notion of ‘a reserve army of the unemployed’.

Which gives a clue where Hayek and Milton Friedman got some of their crappy ideas about the optimum level of unemployment from. The Angry Yorkshireman has pointed out that one the central ideas of the Chicago school, of which Friedman was a part, was that there should be an unemployment rate of 6 per cent in order to keep wages low. He’s point out how this idea permeates modern Tory economic dogma. When Osborne therefore starts making noises about combating unemployment, he is not talking about trying to return to full employment, or even getting it as low as possible. He deliberately makes vague and ambiguous comments, that sound as though he means to combat unemployment, but in fact mean that he intends to maintain the six per cent level. His intentions only become clear once you understand his policies’ basis in Friedman’s weird and unpleasant ideas.
It’s clear from this that Friedman got that part of his economic theory from 19th century Classical Economists.

It also seems to me that while Askwith may have been wrong about the Labour Exchanges, he would be absolutely right about modern Job Centres. Firstly, the recruitment aspect has been removed from them completely, and given to private recruitment centres and government outsourcing contractors. These in turn have been found to be monumentally inept at actually getting people into full-time paid work. In fact, they’re worse than the unemployed just looking for work on their own account without their dubious help.

Secondly, the Jobcentres are now run according to the Victorian notion of less eligibility. They try to make things as hard for the unemployed as possible in order to throw them off benefit. The attitude seems to be to harangue and bully people into finding work, or putting them on workfare to act as an unpaid labour force for the Tories’ backers in industry.

All this makes me wonder whether the failings of these organisations to get people into work aren’t actually part of their design. The government needs the electorate to believe it’s doing everything it can to get the unemployed into work, while actually maintaining a pool of the unemployed to keep those in work poor and desperate. And so the slightest excuse is found to throw the sick and unemployed off benefit, but not to make sure they’ve found work.