WES STREETING: The real reason immigration is out of control? The country’s obsession with cheap labour from overseas
The news last week that net migration has reached record levels revealed three things.
First, the generosity of Britons who have opened their arms to greet those fleeing war in Ukraine and persecution in Hong Kong.
Second, the country’s continuing failure to get a grip on the asylum system, where the number of decisions made on claims is down by a fifth, causing the backlog to grow to a record high. Genuine refugees are unable to live freely and contribute fully to our society, while it takes years to return those who have made false claims.
Third, the migration figures reveal the total neglect of our young people, who are denied the skills and opportunities they need to compete in the modern labour market. There’s no better example of this than in the NHS.
A majority of work visas handed out last year were to people coming to staff our health and care sectors. Last week, the Nursing and Midwifery Council revealed half of new recruits into the NHS were trained abroad – the highest proportion in more than 30 years.
WES STREETING: An international workforce strengthens the NHS and it should be a source of pride for us Brits that so many healthcare professionals choose to work in the UK (file image)
When I had kidney cancer I was operated on by a world-class surgeon, after which I was cared for by some of our health service’s heroic, compassionate nurses. Some of them were from overseas.
An international workforce strengthens the NHS and it should be a source of pride for us Brits that so many healthcare professionals choose to work in the UK.
But NHS Providers – the membership organisation for trusts across England – has criticised the ‘over-reliance’ on overseas recruitment. It is right to. The Tories’ response to our chronic shortage of doctors and nurses has not been to train more, nor to retain those working in the health service who are overstretched and burnt out. Instead, they have once again reached for the immigration lever.
The Health Foundation says the NHS is hiring one in ten nurses and midwives from nations on the World Health Organisation (WHO) red list – a ten-fold rise since 2019. These are medics from countries such as Nigeria and Afghanistan, despite the WHO prohibiting their recruitment, given the shortage of healthcare skills in their homelands.
Meanwhile, the Government is denying opportunities to young people in this country. Last summer, it cut the number of medical school places by about 3,000, turning away straight-A students from studying for a brilliant career in medicine. There is a global dearth of medics, and the UK is refusing to pull its weight. It is simply immoral.
I visited the University of Worcester in March, which has spent the past seven years building a brand-new medical school due to open this summer. The facility has attracted applications from more than 1,000 would-be students, but the Government is not paying a penny towards their tuition. Local NHS trusts have clubbed together with a charity to fund 20 places for domestic students, with the remainder offered to international admissions.
This is ludicrous, but not unique. Brunel University opened its medical school last year without a single domestic student on its books thanks to the central cap on funding.
This Government has a poverty of ambition for our young people – it will tell them to pick fruit but deny them the chance to become doctors. The NHS is on fire – if the instinct of British students is to run towards it with buckets of water, why would we stand in their way?
Erstwhile education secretary James Cleverly said at the time the decision to cut places was a cost-saving exercise. It may be penny-wise but it’s pound-foolish.
WES STREETING: Mr Cleverly should have considered the cost of failing to train sufficient numbers of staff (file image)
Mr Cleverly should have considered the cost of failing to train sufficient numbers of staff. The NHS is wasting £3 billion a year on recruitment agencies. Trusts are forced to pay rip-off fees of up to £5,000 for a single doctor’s shift.
Then there is the cost to the economy. Of the record 7.3 million people in England waiting for treatment, half are of working age. No wonder a record number are too ill to work. The Tories’ failure to get patients treated on time has turned us into sick-note Britain.
In its Budget, the Government shamelessly stole the reforms that shadow work and pensions secretary Jon Ashworth had proposed to get the long-term sick back to work. Good – we have been begging the Chancellor to do the same with Labour’s NHS workforce plan.
When my party announced our scheme to double medical school places and increase clinical training berths for nurses and midwives by 10,000 a year – paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax status – it was welcomed by the then-chairman of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, Jeremy Hunt.
In an email to subscribers, he wrote it was ‘something I hope the Government also adopts, on the basis that smart governments nick the best ideas of their opponents’. Yet, eight months on we are still waiting.
WES STREETING: Sir Keir Starmer wants to end sticking-plaster politics and fix the root causes instead (file image)
It’s the same story across our economy. Skills and training for young people are neglected, denying them the chance to fulfil their potential. Businesses have been complaining for years that the Apprenticeship Levy – the contribution they make to a central pot that helps to fund traineeships – isn’t working. The proof is the Government isn’t spending half of the money raised. Labour will give businesses the flexibility they are asking for so that money can be invested in the skills we need to prepare Britain for the challenges ahead.
The deck is stacked against domestic workers when it comes to wages, too. Why is it written into our rules that employers in some industries, such as engineering and social care, can pay overseas staff 20 per cent less than the going rate for their British co-workers?
How can that be fair to working people – both here already and coming from abroad – to be paid less? The Migration Advisory Committee has said this rule creates a ‘perverse’ incentive for overseas recruitment. Labour would scrap it and create a level playing field.
Sir Keir Starmer wants to end sticking-plaster politics and fix the root causes instead. The Conservatives have lost control of immigration. The next Labour government will choose home-grown talent over an ever-greater reliance on recruiting from overseas.
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