Tuesday, 19 May 2015

VICTORIA GILLICK has produced a lengthy and detailed report on the effects of immigration on Wisbech. You may not agree with her conclusions, but all her statistics have been collected via Freedom of Information requests. As stated in earlier blogs, I neither endorse nor refute anything in the report. It is up to you, the reader, to come to your own conclusions. I have been hosting her report in installments, but if you wish to downloaded a copy of the complete document, you can do so from this link. It is a Microsoft Word document.


                                       Unsocial housing
Wisbech had nothing like enough properties to house the thousands of migrant workers. Not decently anyway. Soon enough though, an unpleasant breed of gangmaster/landlord came crawling out of the woodwork to take advantage of the situation, buying up all the available housing stock and packing migrants into every nook and cranny. One had a portfolio of over 500 Wisbech properties.29 In 2007 there were at least 500 Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in the Town, but within six years the numbers had doubled, housing at least 7,000 East Europeans.30

Local people couldn't tolerate living like this, let alone afford the rack-rents being charged. Nor should they be expected to, even in extremis. After all, didn't we outlaw this kind of 'Rachmanism' back in the 1950s?

The whole nasty business was eventually investigated in 2012 by Operation Pheasant, a multi-agency task force comprising Police and Fire services, HM Revenue & Customs, the Gangmaster Licensing Authority, UK Border Agency, UK Human Trafficking Centre and Fenland Council.   
A year later, Operation Endeavour delved further into the racketeering activities of gangmaster-landlords. Since then, an inspection of 490 properties has unearthed 216 cases of illegal practices, eleven cases of human trafficking, including five sham marriages, and 159 benefit offences. So far a total of 205 migrants have received help and rehousing by the Council and the Salvation Army, while a total of 53 people have been voluntarily repatriated.  These ongoing police operations were assisted by a grant of £178,600 from the government's Rogue Landlord Fund.30

                                             Housing problems

According to the Council's Index of Multiple Deprivation, the average price of a Fenland home at the turn of the Millennium was £89,954. The ongoing demand for foreign worker accommodation subsequently generated a growing market in 'buy-to-let' properties, especially in Wisbech where these could be easily financed by shoehorning high-rental migrants into them. This led to a general house price inflation, so that by 2011 the average price had risen 59% and a Fenland home now cost £152,465. 

Although this was still the lowest average price in Cambridgeshire, it was nearly six times the average gross income in Fenland.

Finding accommodation in Wisbech was made even more difficult for local people when private landlords began refusing them tenancy of any house, flat or bed-sit, preferring instead to have multiple foreign tenants whom they could charge extortionate 'per-person' rents. 
                                           Social housing

Renting or buying decent affordable homes in the private sector was soon well beyond the pockets of hard-pressed Fen families. More and more of them were therefore obliged to turn  to the Council for social housing, almost half of the applicants coming from Wisbech.
In November 2007 Fenland Council sold its stock of 3,779 social houses to Roddon Housing Association (Circle) for between £2,000 and £3,700 each. Although there were many other Associations offering such housing, Roddon remained the main provider for the Council overall.

Between 2008-12 the Fenland waiting list for Roddon homes had increased from 1,802 to 3,033.

Meanwhile in 2010 the Government had passed the Localism Act and the Equality Act, giving District Councils greater flexibility in deciding who should be accepted on the housing list and whom to prioritise.....irrespective of nationality. Three years later the waiting list had reduced to 1,315, with the proportion of foreign migrants being housed increasing substantially.
In 2010 there were 250 households allocated to Roddon's Housing, of which 31 (12.4%) were immigrants from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia. A further 54 East Europeans were housed the following year. In 2012 the number was 42 (14.7%), rising to 75 (22.1%) in 2013.31

In those four years alone a total of 202 migrant households were given priority over local families. Sounds reasonable, does it?
Between 2011-14 the Government poured £20 million into a Homelessness Transition Fund to "protect vital frontline services". Cambridgeshire got £586,863 of it, of which Fenland received £144,755 for its Eastern European Nationals Homelessness Project.

The Ferry Project's emergency night shelter in Wisbech received £274,000 from the Fund. 41   
                                         The lowest wages
Fenland is by far and away the poorest area in Cambridgeshire. In 2011, when average gross weekly earnings across the region were £500, they were 20% lower in Fenland at £400.50.32

Back in August 1998, a 19 year-old student working a 49-hour week in a Fenland food-processing factory was paid a basic day rate of £4.33 per hour, plus time-and-a-half for eleven hours night shift. After deducting £25.70 for his National Insurance, the student's take-home pay was £282.50.33

The National Minimum Wage was introduced the following year at £3.68 an hour for 16-17 year-olds, £4.88 for 18-20s, and £6.08 for the over-21s. However, the chronic labour shortage at that time had obliged Fenland businesses to pay far more than this bare minimum. During the harvest months of the Millennium year for instance, 18 year-olds were earning a basic rate of over £8 per hour in many Fenland factories, rising to £13 per hour for the arduous night shifts.

Four years later, as thousands of East European workers began pouring into Fenland, factory bosses  immediately slashed wages by half, with no differential for day and night shifts. Long-standing local workers, still on the higher rates, were then given a bleak choice: take a pay cut, or go.

Those aged 18-21 were hit especially hard by the Minimum Wage, having to do an adult's work for a sub-adult's pay, which in 2013 still only amounted to £4.98 an hour.34
Gangmasters, or 'recruitment agents' as the new breed now called themselves, quickly stepped in and took almost complete control of the local labour market, deducting punitive fees from the foreign workers for transport and a host of other spurious costs, while also taking rental for the unspeakable 'multi-lets' they kept them in. A large and permanent poster in the agencies' windows reminding migrants to 'Claim your TAX back here', was another source of gangmaster income: charging a percentage fee for presenting their worker's P60 tax rebate forms to the Inland Revenue.
In 2008 an adult Lithuanian was paid £5.52 an hour for a 40-hour week in a Wisbech food factory. After deducting £23.20 Tax and £12.70 National Insurance, his take-home pay was just £184.90.  Like so many migrants, this particular individual probably worked for part of the year, and then went back to his home country for two or three weeks before returning to start work again, thus allowing him to claim his tax back for the entire year. 

                                        Displaced altogether

efore long the Government had introduced the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS), whereby local employers were able to import an entire foreign workforce for rock-bottom wages. In 2009 the saintly Co-op was given the go-ahead by Fenland Council to build 108 mobile homes and a communal centre on its farm at Coldham near March, to house 430 newly imported and minimally paid migrants.35 As it happened the scheme never actually went ahead, and by 2014 the Co-op's dire national finances led to the sale of all its farms businesses to the Wellcome Trust.


In 2013 Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers' Union, told sugar beet growers at the East of England Show that farming had created 11,000 more jobs since 2009.36

Well maybe so, Mr Kendall, but since most gangmaster/agencies operated an unofficial policy of hiring 'migrants only', very few of those jobs went to Fenland folk. If a job-hunter wasn't East European they were unlikely even to get on an agency's books. Or if they did, they had to be bilingual since most of their fellow workers either couldn't, or wouldn't, speak English.

Fenland Council's Migration Population Strategy stated the obvious in 2007 when it observed:

'...The total labour market is increasing, so is unemployment, and the rise in part time work has levelled off. This may be a sign that, to some extent, migrant labour has replaced local labour.