Net migration in the UK must be at least double the level set in the government’s target to prevent economic catastrophe and a public service crisis, new research shows.
Think tank Global Future, whose advisory council includes leaders from business, politics and the arts, says an absolute minimum level of 200,000 a year is essential to sustaining growth, stabilising the working age population and preventing severe staff shortages in a range of sectors, including the NHS.
Backed by senior figures from the farming, healthcare and construction field, the research includes a ‘top-down’ analysis of the long term needs of the economy, as well as a bottom up perspective from different sectors.
It recommends priority is given to clarifying the position of EU nationals to prevent an unwanted exodus from the UK says the government should scrap its 100,000 net migration target, stating:
“In the current General Election, Britain two main political parties are both making the case for controlling immigration. There is little discussion, however, about the nature and extent of the UK’s need for inward migration. We believe the current political debate is dishonest and is failing to serve the interests of the public.
“Indeed, there is a strong positive argument that can be made for the continued free movement of people to and from the EU rather than accepting the characterisation of this as a downside of single market membership. In the years to come it is entirely possible that the debate on immigration may shift from questions about whether levels are too high to asking if numbers are sufficient to meet the needs of the country.”
Both the Conservatives and Labour have committed in their manifestos to ending freedom of movement post-Brexit.
Gurnek Bains, Global Future’s founder and chief executive, said: “Fewer immigrants will be bad for Britain’s economy, businesses, finances and public services. There are now political leaders from across the political spectrum who either pretend lower immigration will solve every problem or connive in this deceit. These politicians are not only selling voters short – they are selling our country short too.”
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said the construction industry’s demand for skilled migrant workers from the EU and beyond ‘cannot be overstated’.
In London alone, there are more than 157,000 non-UK construction workers constituting almost half of the industry’s workforce in the capital,” he added.
“Pre-Brexit, 60% of small construction firms are already having trouble hiring bricklayers and that’s before the UK abandons the free movement of people.”
Mr Berry said if the next government adopts an ‘inflexible immigration approach’, any manifesto pledges on housing and infrastructure will be rendered ‘meaningless’.
David Hynam, CEO of Bupa UK, said the health and social care sector was already facing a significant staff shortage, with nearly 8% of nursing posts vacant and National Farmers Union president Meurig Raymond said EU migrant Labour has become important to almost every aspect of agriculture.
“For farmers, access to labour is a requirement that extends beyond the farm gate,” he added.
“An abrupt reduction in the number of EU workers able to work in the UK after leaving the EU would cause massive disruption to the entire food supply chain.”
Read the full report here.