This report is entitled the Case for Immigration and its substance is a serious, fact-based analysis of both the top-down and bottom-up needs for migrant workers in the years ahead.
The UK is close to full employment, has an ageing population and low productivity growth. These factors make immigration an essential ingredient of a successful economy in the years ahead. Global Future’s top-down economic view is that a net migration figure well in excess of 200,000 a year will be needed long into the future to avoid catastrophic consequences for the economy.
Furthermore, our bottom-up analysis which shows many sectors are already on a cliff-edge in terms of labour shortages, also confirms that a migration figure in excess of 200,000 will be needed to avoid collapse of whole sectors, as well as to prevent the crisis in public services such as Social Care and the NHS getting worse.
The remarkably convergent conclusions from two very different perspectives – top down and bottom up – raise significant questions for UK policy, as well as negotiations with the EU, over the years to come.
This report shows that the Government’s target of cutting net migration to the tens of thousands, either immediately or in the long-term, is based on an outdated and backward looking view of policy in this area. The clear conclusion of this report is that making substantial cuts in immigration to these levels is not only very difficult but also overwhelmingly undesirable.
The only way in which migration can be reduced beyond the levels suggested here is if economic growth crashes. Furthermore, there is a very real risk that, because of factors such as the decline in the value of the pound and perceived cultural hostility to outsiders, key employees may leave the UK while potential migrants will start to favour other destinations.
Quite simply, we believe that at a time of full employment, the UK cannot ignore the benefits that immigration confers in terms of tackling chronically low productivity growth and the consequences of a rapidly ageing UK domestic population.
It means the case for staying in the single market is not limited to free trade – in goods, capital and services – to which most political parties pay at least lip service. 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.
We welcome how the Government has avoided some of the nativist rhetoric of hardline Leave campaigners, insisting it is committed to ensuring the UK remains a globally dynamic economy that reaches out to the world. But we believe its target of cutting net migration to the tens of thousands is completely at odds with these principles.
It would be a significant step forward for the quality and honesty of public discourse if political parties recognised that cutting immigration substantially will damage the interests of the UK and its people.
We believe that priority should be given to clarifying the position of EU nationals in order to prevent an unwanted exodus from the UK. We also believe that the Government should refrain from setting artificial targets for net migration. Finally, we believe that politicians and political parties in this General Election should have the courage to speak out and make the positive case for case for net migration to continue at a level of at least 200,000 people a year.
Indeed, 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 what we do to make sure numbers are sufficient to meet the needs of the country.
We recognise there are political pressures at a time like this which can have a chilling effect on even the most rational argument. But strong leadership, the need for economic stability and the national interest require politicians to speak the truth even when it is inconvenient for them.