Resolve the question of asylum seekers working with a job guarantee scheme

Priti Patel is currently resisting calls to allow asylum seekers to work whilst their claims are being processed, the Guardian report. They state:

Priti Patel’s department is resisting growing demands to allow asylum seekers to work following a public intervention from her cabinet colleague Dominic Raab to say that he would be “open-minded’ about the proposal.

Keir Starmer is also putting the boot in, along with several Tory MPs, who are similarly in favour of the proposal. Some argue that the system is so back-logged that it makes sense to allow them to work. Others insist that many have useful skills – such as doctors and nurses – who could help with labour shortages. Others simply think it isn’t right to stop people from having the ability to work.

Of course, against all that, is a legitimate concern. If we allow asylum seekers to work the moment they arrive, there isn’t much to stop economic migrants who do not qualify for entry to the UK from simply getting here anyway and claiming asylum so they can work. It is reasonable to point out, if we made the right to work a basic right for asylum seekers, it does add a major draw for those coming on false pretences.

Of course, as Keir Starmer is adding his two penneth on this issue, he was recently criticised for refusing to back an upgrade in minimum wage to £15 per hour. Many argued he wasn’t bothered about lower paid workers. Others suggested that he was in the process of dragging Labour unhelpfully to the right and did not want to alienate Tory voters at the expense of the lower paid workers Labour is supposed to represent. Others see his willingness to call for asylum seekers to work while also noting his refusal to raise the minimum wage.

There is, however, a happy way to ensure both these things might be addressed. If we backed a job guarantee scheme – making the government the employer of last resort – there would be no concern about pressure on jobs and allowing asylum seekers to work while their cases are heard nor would there be any issue regarding minimum wage. Under a job guarantee, the government save money on all out of work benefits (except disability support) because there is no longer any need for them. Everybody has a job guaranteed by the employer of last resort. The minimum wage itself then gets set at the level the government is willing to pay those it employs, as they guarantee a job to anyone who can’t get one elsewhere. All other employers, to attract workers, must pay more than the employer of last resort.

The Labour Party always used to argue for the inherent dignity of work. Setting people up for perpetual serfdom does not seem like a great way to support the working classes nor to give dignity to those fleeing brutal regimes. A job guarantee would allow us to welcome asylum seekers, giving them the dignity of work based on community needs, whilst also allowing us to set a credible minimum wage without simply giving handouts to people, stripping them of their dignity. If we think it undignified for asylum seekers to simply receive handouts because they can’t work – and many do – it cannot be any more dignified for indigenous British people. We can give everyone the dignity of work, and set a credible minimum wage in the meantime, by creating a job guarantee scheme.