Milliband, One Nation and the English Language

In a recent speech, Ed Milliband, the Leader of the British Labour Party, while resisting calls for immigrants to become simply more integrated in British society (he championed diversity), found time to suggest that many home care workers in the UK did not speak English well enough. Consequently, he felt the need to remind people that communication is just as important as lifting someone, cleaning their bottom or cooking them a meal. For this, Milliband promised to ensure people providing front line care services for the State, would have the necessary level of English to serve their clients social needs. One might think at first sight that this is quite reasonable of him, but a closer look reveals Milliband to be cynically exploiting racist sentiment in the UK.

For example, were he to give a speech on public transport, we are sure bus drivers would be offended to hear Milliband insist bus drivers not consume alcohol or drugs while driving the public around or that taxi drivers maintain a high standard of personal hygiene during their time working with the public. Suggesting there is a problem in the care services (without referencing the information which leads him to think so) and that this is an immigrant problem is nothing but the deeply insulting stirring racist tensions. Quite frankly, communication is central to the care workers’ job (as is a high level of personal hygiene) and if workers are not competent in this field it is the fault of those interviewing and selecting candidates

Indeed, we have searched the web exhaustively and found no job descriptions for home care workers where good communication skills are not essential. This job description here is perhaps the worst in that it does not highlight these communication skills nearly enough. You will also note that the position pays 6 pounds and 64 pence for working weekends, a whole 55 pence above the minimum wage for a normal working day.

Of course, we know that many of these private care agencies contracted by the state are not of sufficient quality and put profit before care but this is what Milliband should be saying rather than scapegoating low-paid workers for whom English is not their first language.

Indeed, the only report on inadequate home care services in the UK that we could find was produced by Which, the consumers’ magazine. They had this to say:

So what’s at the heart of the poor care we’ve uncovered? Can it be blamed on the agencies or the system itself?

The House of Commons Health Committee recently concluded that ‘the current social care system is inadequately funded. People are not receiving the care and support that they need’.

But some of the problems people are experiencing are more basic. In a separate Which? survey, poor communication came out as a big issue, such as agencies failing to let people know that their careworker couldn’t make a visit.

Nearly half of those asked said that at least one visit had been missed in the past six months. Worse still, six in ten hadn’t been warned in advance.

And poor communication can have a big impact on family carers too. One daughter told us:

‘[The agency] missed a day after Christmas. They incorrectly entered into their database the days we didn’t need care. I covered, but mum didn’t contact me until early evening by which time she needed a lot of clearing up.’

So it seems communication is important but not for the reasons Milliband gives. Again, Milliband did not see fit to address this poor service provision by private agencies or inadequate funding, he wanted simply to suggest extremely low-paid workers were the problem.

Further in the speech, Milliband also talks about communities stretched to breaking point, unable to cope with new arrivals to the area. Nowhere, however, does Milliband explain how the rancid policies of Blair and Brown destroyed communities with its commitment to ever increasing house prices (it was a good earner for the state) and a flexible labour market with low pay. This is what the National Housing Federation has to say on the subject:

…research found that in 2001, the average price of a South East home was £157,244 and the average salary was £17,503. In the space of ten years the price of a home has rocketed to £280,067 – an increase of 78% – whereas wages have risen just 25% to £21,944, making buying a home increasingly unaffordable for millions of workers.

These findings are replicated across England, with the average national house price increasing by three times the rate of average income.

Of course, affordable jobs, housing, leisure time, disposable income are all part of building meaningful communities but Milliband and New Labour have always served the 1% rather the needs of their communities. Indeed the only community they effectively served was that of the financial sector.

Let us go a little further in that analysis. The Labour Party has sought to manipulate immigration for the needs of the 1%, taking skilled workers (or their products) from across the globe and not adequately compensating the countries that trained them in those skills, but when there is increasing unemployment and dissatisfaction amongst the populace, they are quick to scapegoat those very same communities. Undoubtedly, he does talk of unscrupulous landlords and corrupt employment agencies exploiting migrant labour but the truth is that the problem is systemic and not individual. The economic system he supports is responsible for the misery of both longer standing residents and migrant workers.

Therefore, Milliband remains silent on the foreign capital flooding into the property market in the South East of England (idle capital trying to find a safe haven from the financial crisis) and driving prices ridiculously high, despite its devastating effect on families of all ethnicities and nationalities in the region. It is for this reason that immigrant families are crowded into homes, not simply because of unscrupulous landlords (we are sure there are many) but because of the neo-liberal economics he worships.

Miliband’s One Nationa term borrowed from the Britain’s past, where imperialist expansion helped resolve domestic tensions,  is an attempt to create one nation for both racists and immigrants, while ensuring a mass of servile people keeping the rich richer. This is nothing new in the UK and is nothing but the successive policies of both Labour and the Conservatives. The arch racist Enoch Powell, as a Tory employment minister, was responsible for considerable immigration into the UK in times of labour shortages only to preach hatred against those communities once the economic situation had changed. Milliband’s novelty is to combine both positions simultaneously in the same speech.

We could of course open up the possibility of Welsh or Scottish Gaelic and where this fits in with Milliband’s speech on English being central to One Nation but it is suffice to say, that Milliband was not attempting to tackle linguistic questions but to pander to racism.

For Milliband the profit system is his main concern and if he needs to use racism to distract attention from the failures of that system, then that is exactly what he will do.


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