Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Dr G R Smith (V4)

  We have in Thetford, as well as other Norfolk towns such as Dereham, a major immigrant problem.

  We are aware that "gangmasters" began the process of promising employment to foreign nationals, arranging housing, transport etc., in local vegetable factories where long hours and night work made jobs unpopular with local people. Several houses in the town were occupied by up to 20 adults using a "hot bed" system.

  Previous, under normal circumstances with natural growth, Thetford was struggling to keep up provision of its services. With this influx of 700 Portuguese and all that it entails with the demands on the town's present infrastructure (medical, police, education, housing, sewage, roads) the strain is intolerable. Thetford is already a recognized deprivation area and this is exacerbating the situation.

  Speaking particularly for my own practice, there has been no extra funding to provide the care one should be giving. The local population is being short-changed as my colleagues and staff are spending a vast amount of time sorting the problems of non-English speaking patients. We are therefore imparting a two-tier system with the disadvantage to the Thetfordians. It would, therefore, be extremely helpful if this current recruiting campaign could be strongly discouraged.

  There is increasing evidence of long term "sick" which in turn puts a strain on the local hospitals. We are, of course, aware that the majority are not illegal immigrants but several meetings with Immigration, the Police and primary care services have been unable to resolve the increasing difficulties in the town.

  Because of the nature of the problem, and lack of control, we are powerless to improve the situation and it would seem a possibility to put some restriction on the activity of the gangmasters who have created the problem.

  I should emphasise that we are unable to name names and this evidence is no proof of the activity of gangmasters, but we are aware that this influx of casual workers has flouted our laws, disadvantaged our workers and strained our hard-pressed services.

3 April 2003

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