Socialist Worker

There is a population problem

Issue No. 1691

UN report reveals...

There is a population problem

By Helen Shooter

THE PRESS have been whipping up hysteria against immigrants "swamping" Britain in recent weeks. But a United Nations report has exposed that the real population crisis is the very opposite of that portrayed by the media. "In the next 50 years the populations of most developed countries are projected to become smaller and older," the UN's population unit said last month.

Far from countries like Britain being overburdened with people, leading industrialised nations are suffering from a low birth rate. In 61 countries-which together account for 44 percent of the world's population-the fertility rate in 1995-2000 was below that needed to maintain the population at its existing level.

This means the population will gradually become older, so there are proportionally less young workers contributing to the economy and social provision like pensions. The world's leaders are worried because these figures are not a mere blip. No country has ever succeeded in raising birth rates over a long period once they have started to decline.

In Japan, the world's second biggest economy, commentators have hit the panic button. "Twenty years from now the labour force will be smaller-there is a growing crisis about this in government," says Makroto Akoh, deputy director of the National Institute of Population Research. The solution to the problem across the world is obvious, but runs counter to the political bent of many governments-immigration should be encouraged.

The Japanese government has some of the toughest laws against immigration in the world. Yet the UN report estimates that around 609,000 immigrants will be needed over the next 50 years just to keep the country's population at its 1995 size. Europe is the main area of the world most affected by an ageing population. The report concludes, "Low fertility countries will look to active older people and immigrants to supply some needed services and contribute to the economy." Britain would just be able to keep the population steady if the number of immigrants was around 88,000 a year.

That translates into over 7,300 immigrants being welcomed into Britain to work every month. Without immigrants the retirement age would have to rise to 72 to maintain the ratio of workers to pensioners, according to the report. Yet New Labour is stoking up a climate that brands immigrants as scroungers who are a drain on the economy and the resources we all use.

Underneath all the hysteria chancellor Gordon Brown is keen to encourage a minority of highly skilled workers, such as those who work in information technology, to come to Britain. The number of unfilled vacancies in these lucrative industries will be over 300,000 in three years time, according to the International Data Corporation. Brown's plan means letting Third World countries pay for the cost of training skilled workers, and then grabbing them to temporarily fill these jobs. Britain isn't the only country pitching for such workers.

In Germany Chancellor Schr�der has announced plans to grant limited work and residency permits to 25,000 specialist workers to overcome "short term bottlenecks". Countries like Britain and Germany want to cherry-pick foreign workers without giving them any long term rights, only to kick them out when they are not wanted.

Alongside the skilled foreign workers who are temporarily welcome are the immigrants who are desperate to do any work, no matter what the pay or conditions. One example was revealed by an incident last week in the packing shed of an onion farm near Evesham in Worcestershire. Around 100 foreign nationals from countries including Kurdistan, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Poland and Bosnia were all set to work together in the shed. It is no surprise that a pressure cooker of miserable working conditions and the confusion of many different languages exploded in a fight.

The truth is that ordinary working people in Britain are all worse off because New Labour brands immigrants as a problem. Not only does it stoke up a racist atmosphere, it means immigrants are not allowed to contribute economically or socially to Britain.

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Sat 8 Apr 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1691
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