From time to time when in court I hear about how we interpreters drain the public purse and cost British taxpayers an awful lot of money. A trial is neither the time nor the place to counter this accusation. The catalyst for me addressing the issue is the lecture I attended by prof. Alan Manning on the ‘Economics of Migration’.
Professor Manning argued that labour markets are flexible entities and there is no fixed number of jobs. However, the way immigration affects the lives of UK residents (workers) depends on the market status of the immigrant. When there is an immigrant who possesses a different set of skills and works alongside UK residents then s/he is defined as a complement worker whose presence should be perceived as to everyone’s advantage. In contrast, if an immigrant is someone who does a similar job to a UK resident, then s/he will be classified as a substitute worker. A substitute worker increases the supply of similar workers and thereby the skills they offer are more widespread and cheaper. In general the presence of substitute workers leads to greater levels of competitiveness and tension and this can be seen as a disadvantage to UK residents. Nonetheless, prof. Manning pointed out that even with the influx of supplement workers there exists a more positive line of interpretation. In brief, the availability of cheaper supplement immigrant workers might contribute to lower prices of certain goods/labour which means that UK residents have more money left to spend on other goods or create the demand for other services and commodities. And this confirms that labour markets are able to adjust to various circumstances.
How then is this relevant to court interpreting? Well, court interpreters are immigrants after all and get paid for their work. Since the presence of court interpreters comes to be perceived as economically problematic by some, I would like to propose that we be considered as complement workers who have filled an important niche in the criminal justice system and contributed to the flexibility of the UK labour market. Furthermore, it seems to go unrecognized that court interpreters are also UK taxpayers who use their income to: eat out, rent or buy properties, use public transport, go on holiday and explore the British countryside etc. In addition court interpreters have created the demand for a number of services, for instance university degrees and interpreting exams. So here is an interesting line of thought unfolding – court interpreters contribute to the public purse.
Apparently there is no cost-free immigration and I guess that it is very easy to say that the court interpreting bill is high. However on deeper consideration this opinion does disservice to court interpreting and many other professions performed by immigrants. Therefore, I would like to encourage British taxpayers, in particular criminal justice professionals, to think of court interpreters as workers who provide a complementary job alongside theirs that is to everyone’s advantage.
The lecture ‘Economics of Migration’ by Professor Alan Manning is available to view online here: Economics of Migration
Photograph: the Public Purse by Simon Perry, Melbourne (1994). Retrieved from Wikipedia Commons.