The real drain on the economy is bad employers, not migration
This week David Cameron faced this question during a visit to Bentley motor works in Crewe:
‘Why do we seem to have a weak policy on immigration when it’s a constant drain? All the people here work hard, and why do we let people in that are a constant drain?’
To which Cameron replied:
‘Look, I basically agree with you. There are some benefits from being a country that can welcome people who want to come here and work hard, but … I think the pressure [net migration] puts on public services is too great. I think the pressure it puts on some of our communities was too great.’
The right-wing press have lapped this up.However, this time last week the same papers were less sure-footed. A report from the Office for Budgetary Responsibility caught them a little off-guard as it indicated that the responsible thing to do would be to, yes, keep the migrants coming. The report stated that if there was zero net migration, Britain’s debt to GDP ratio would by 40% higher by 2062-63 so migrant workers would be needed to keep public services on the road and public finances afloat.
The Daily Mail was forced to report there would be a need for migration to keep the elderly of England safe and cared for. You could almost see the wiring in the Daily Mail brain melting as it was faced with the impossible choice: migrants or the NHS….
Former Immigration Minister Damian Green was of course quick to reject the OBR report, stating that when migrants get old they in turn will be a burden on the health service and thus reverse any positive effect they might have.
Jonathan Portes shows why Green’s claim doesn’t hold water. The OBR did factor into their analysis the fact migrants get old themselves, and Portes adds that, as many EU migrants come to the UK for economic reasons, they are less likely to stay in the UK in their old age, meaning they are likely to cost the UK public purse even less than its own residents.
But we need to go futher than saying simply saying migration is good for the economy (which studies show that it is, to the tune of £0.6 billion) or that migrants are 60% less likely than British people to claim beenfits.
We need to look at the jobs migrants are doing as it’s clear more growth and productivity could be created by ensuring pay and working standards in these sectors.
We know migrants are employed mainly at the top and bottom of the economy –both the City financier and the cleaner in their five star hotel is likely to be a migrant.
Those migrants working at the bottom end have jobs characterised by insecurity with bogus self-employment, low pay – sometimes below the National Minimum Wage – long hours and dangerous working conditions common.
Without proper contracts and cash in hand payments, migrant workers don’t pay tax. Without decent wages, migrant workers can’t buy many goods in the UK market to generate growth. And without safe conditions at work, employees are not productive – how well would you work on a construction site if there was a risk you might break your neck falling off scaffolding each day?
For migrant workers employed in the low-skill sectors to really be productive, we need better enforcement of the National Minimum Wage and extending (rather than stripping down as it did this week) the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
Of course Britain needs to move away from being a low-skill economy. This requires the Government needs to invest in proper training, Apprenticeships and education, including English language provision for migrant workers who we know often work at jobs significantly below their skill level.
So to answer the Bentley employee in Crewe:
The real ‘drain’ on society comes from the government not investing in its workforce and measures to make sure employers pay and treat workers decently, migrant and non-migrant.