Britain 'needs more migrants to avoid labour crisis'

The Conservative Party's manifesto outlined a hard Brexit and "reduce and control" migration from the bloc to below 100,000.
The Conservative Party's manifesto outlined a hard Brexit and "reduce and control" migration from the bloc to below 100,000. PHOTO: EPA

LONDON • Britain needs to increase the number of migrants entering the country by a net 200,000 a year - double the Conservative target - to avoid the "catastrophic economic consequences" of Brexit, according to a think-tank.

An annual net migration of 200,000 is necessary given the low productivity, ageing population and labour shortage in key areas, such as the National Health Service, The Guardian reported yesterday, citing a document released by the employer-backed Global Future.

The Conservative Party's manifesto for government, released on Thursday, outlined a hard Brexit in which Britain will leave the European Union's single market, and "reduce and control" migration from the bloc to below 100,000.

The Global Future rapped the Conservatives and main opposition Labour Party - which said the "freedom of movement will end when we leave the EU" - for not telling the public about the level of migration needed by Britain to avoid a labour crisis.

The report also warned that if Britain was not flexible about its sources of labour, it could face a decade of slow growth like in Japan, The Guardian reported.

Britain's annual net immigration exceeded 300,000 at the end of 2014, and stood at 273,000 in the year until September last year, according to Bloomberg.

"Between 2000 and 2050, the number of people over 65 will double, while the number of over-85s will quadruple. The working population will need to double in order to maintain the ratio at its current level," said the report.

The Global Future predicted that demand for skilled labour across the social care, construction and nursing sectors alone would necessitate an additional 47,000 migrant workers a year, higher than the current migration of skilled workers across all sectors.

Unskilled industries, such as hospitality, would be heavily dependent on migration, requiring an extra 60,000 migrants a year.

In summary, Britain would need at least 100,000 work-related migrants a year to keep its industries humming, with the rest likely to be students and people coming to Britain for family reasons, said the think-tank.

The labour market crisis was likely to become acute in the short term unless ministers gave an early signal in the Brexit talks on Britain's plans for EU residents and migration, it said.

Talks with the EU to negotiate Britain's divorce from the bloc could begin as soon as the day after the British general election on June 8.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2017, with the headline 'Britain 'needs more migrants to avoid labour crisis''. Print Edition | Subscribe