29 Jan 2015 01:52pm

Debate: Is immigration bad for the economy?

UKIP's Steven Woolfe and PwC's Julia Onslow-Cole discuss the impact of immigration on the UK economy

YES: Steve Woolfe, UKIP MEP and migration spokesperson

NO: Julia Onslow-Cole, PwC partner and head of global immigration


YES Steven Woolfe

Mass, uncontrolled immigration, from the EU or elsewhere, lowers the wages of unskilled working people in our economy. If UK factories are allowed to use agencies to source labour from less developed EU countries to make sandwiches, it does not help our people who exist on benefits, living just above the poverty line. If there is one thing any economist can find evidence for, it’s the propensity for the influx of unskilled labour into the UK to reduce wages at the subsistence end of the labour market.

This is of great benefit to the elites and policymakers in this country, who often draw on the cheap services provided by unskilled workers, for example child minder and cleaners. Yet it also results in the creation of a dispossessed, impoverished UK ‘underclass’. This is a group of clearly identifiable British people, often corralled on sink estates, who are unemployed, underemployed or unemployable. By substituting these workers with immigrants, and paying them benefits instead of helping them become productive members of society, successive governments have doomed whole sections of our communities.

The mass migration we currently have makes it near impossible for government to plan for future public services or infrastructure. The controversy over the ‘official’ Office for National Statistics 57% contribution of immigration to total UK population growth means it is difficult for public service administrators to properly budget for health, education, police and other essential central and local government services. Overall, migration numbers track the global ebbs and flows of human beings so by definition are hard to estimate if – as in the UK – the government has lost control of our borders and subscribes to policies that allow unfettered mass, public service using EU migration.



NO Julia Onslow-Cole

In an increasingly competitive global economy, the UK must continue to leverage its position as an iconic global hub for business. Our own PwC CEOs Survey demonstrates that attracting the world’s best talent is a key driver for economic growth and is one of the most pressing concerns of management. While the cap on tier two migrants has not been breached, it is essential the cap rises in line with UK economic growth and as recruitment increases. As well as senior talent, businesses rely on being able to give their own overseas’ employees experience in the UK, which they use to further enhance their international presence. Many global businesses base their graduate programmes in the UK, which benefits and upskills local talent so giving them access to the global talent pool.

The mass migration we currently have makes it near impossible for government to plan for future public services or infrastructure

Steven Woolfe

UK immigration policies should consider businesses’ need to attract the right talent and increase their share of international markets. This means demonstrating that the UK is open for business, offering opportunities for the brightest and best.

The UK offers an unparalleled education sector that contributes significantly to the UK economy. We have to continue to support and promote this valuable industry, encouraging international students and demonstrating to the world we remain at the forefront of innovation and education. This is vital for developing UK talent too.

No one doubts illegal immigration poses challenges and it’s important that abuse of the system is addressed. However, in ensuring the UK attracts the best talent, regardless of nationality, by implementing sensible controls, we can continue to grow the UK economy to the benefit of all.

Immigration of skilled, talented people is vital to the UK economy. However, the uncontrolled mass immigration allowed by the EU treaty that we have today is bad for working people in this country.

Steven Woolfe

Your focus is too narrow and presents a one-sided view of immigration while ignoring the consequences mass migration has on the UK economy. Immigration can be good for British business, but it must be controlled, otherwise it distorts our domestic labour market. Surveying CEO opinions on immigration is akin to asking them about corporate tax issues; they will plump for options that increase corporate profitability.

Last month, University College London concluded in its migration report that the overall net cost to the UK was up to £150bn. Mass net migration was over 250,000 during the past year. Being part of the EU’s open door policy means that, as a country, we cannot seriously plan our infrastructure as we have no means of predicting migration numbers from one year to the next.



 Julia Onslow-Cole

Concern regarding the uncontrolled mass migration of low-skilled workers is understandable. However, the authorities have implemented a robust system that prevents non-EU unskilled labourers obtaining work visas. Further safeguards include the strict enforcement of the minimum wage that will prevent the undercutting of the domestic workforce.

The key question for policymakers now is ensuring that the skills shortage in the UK is addressed by implementing a long-term plan to upskill our resident workforce. Meanwhile, so the UK retains its competitive edge, business is required to hire the best individuals who will maximise profitability, therefore enabling businesses to reinvest in the UK and help job creation at a local level.

Revolutionary, high-tech products and processes are being created by our leading universities, with significant input from leading

One in seven jobs in Britain are in businesses founded by immigrants

Julia Onslow-Cole

 researchers from across the world. Our economy is in pole position to develop new industries to fully exploit the economic potential of these developments, generate wealth and provide investment in our infrastructure.

Steven Woolfe

Saying “concern over the uncontrolled, mass migration of low-skilled workers is understandable”, is normally the response from those who have never experienced the hardship of being left out of the labour market in their own country. It is easy to promote so-called ‘progressive’ political ideas such as a European super-state when you have a stake in the political arena and apparatus that will benefit.

The lack of properly functioning eBorder technical systems to track the number of non-UK nationals who come in, overstay or leave, is a national disgrace. We need to make sure systems are in place so we know who comes here and remains. Once this has happened, our proposal for an Australian-style, points-based visa system for skilled immigrants can be implemented. This has been gaining support across the political system because it is fair, ethical and serves the economic interests of the UK, not the political agendas of big business and the fantasies of politicians who think supranational government is the answer to national and local problems.



Julia Onslow-Cole

The UK is facing a critical skills shortage. As economia recently reported, £96bn of infrastructure projects are under threat over the next two years because of a lack of skilled workers. If we cut immigration precipitously, and choke off the supply of skilled labour, many of these projects will be at risk.

There needs to be investment in domestic skills, but this will take time and does not address the problems we face today. Only immigration can plug the immediate gap, just as it plugs the skills gaps in essential services, eg, the NHS.

More broadly, the one research authority that matters – the government’s independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) – is absolutely clear: migrants are net contributors to the Exchequer.

The Centre for Entrepreneurs also found one in seven jobs in Britain are in businesses founded by immigrants. The majority of academic analyses show immigrants put in more than they take out. Immigration is not only vital to the economy, but essential to the renewal of our infrastructure.


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