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5 June 2018

Public Policy held hostage by Public Opinion – visioning a new immigration future

By Rita Chadha

The Windrush scandal had us talking about immigration for the past months, but are we really having a bold new conversation on the topic?

In the past eight years, there has been a scramble to reach the “middle ground” in public opinion – the group of people who neither violently oppose immigration, nor wholeheartedly embrace it.

Different sides of the immigration debate commissioned opinion polls to scope out that “anxious middle,” polls which ended up confirming their own perspectives on how to best sway “the public.” But rarely has a story so completely shaken the discussion as the Windrush scandal, and rarely has the immigration system been dissected and explained so thoroughly as it is now. 

There was never a more perfect opportunity to challenge the status quo than now: the “net migration figure” – showpiece of British immigration policy – has been questioned in its very validity; the genuine need for migrants to fill labour market gaps has begun to be understood; and there is growing recognition that the hostile environment is actually very “un-British”. 

Proponents of migration have a number of tools in their armoury. The latest Immigration Bill and Brexit all provide opportunities to reimagine immigration and redesign a new immigration system. This is somewhat ironic, at a time when the public sector is convinced that ideas like place-making, systems change and co-production will not help shape policy and consultation discussions.

I recently asked one leading funder if they would discuss immigration in the context of systems change. As an approach that had not been considered to date, and with no perspective for a common end goal on immigration, the response was that it was not on their radar. It begs the question: why?

Homelessness, drug and alcohol dependency are easy wins because everybody knows the end game. The end to homelessness is to get people into homes, and to end drug and alcohol dependency is to free people of drugs and alcohol. But public policy has captured the immigration debate and held it hostage to a perceived, hopelessly divided public opinion.

At MRN we are interested in looking at systems change in immigration policy and practice. We want to use this approach as part of our methodology when responding to consultations and campaigning for change. With the old adage “two heads are better than one”, if you would like to join in a more up-beat and progressive discussion about the real value of immigration, please get in touch.