Watchdog plays down migrants impact

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Published: Wednesday 10th December 2014 by The News Editor

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The issue of immigration is “not very important” economically and there is “masses of space” in Britain, a senior official from the government fiscal watchdog has suggested.

Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) board member Stephen Nickell told MPs that new arrivals had held down unskilled wages “to some extent” but the overall impact was marginal and the NHS would be in “dire straits” without migrant staff.

Although the public was concerned about numbers, only 10% of the country was urbanised, he argued.

The comments, on an issue set to be a key general election battlground, came as Mr Nickell gave evidence to the Treasury Select Committee in the wake of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

Asked for his views on the impact of immigration on wage inflation, Mr Nickell said: “It’s perfectly true, I think, from the evidence that the pay of unskilled workers, particularly in the service sector, has been held back to some extent – not a massive extent, but to some extent – by unskilled immigration…

“At the end of the day, let’s say over the next 10 years or so, the general consensus is that for the native population, the existing population, immigration may be a little bit good, it may be a little bit bad economically.

“But there isn’t overall that much in it. Obviously there are special situations like in the health service, for example – some 35% of health professional are migrants.

“It’s quite plain that, if they weren’t there, the health service would be in absolutely dire straits.”

Mr Nickell went on: “If I were thinking about immigration, I think that the argument basically boils down to people, the number of people.

“The evidence suggests that, since more immigrants mean more housing, more roads, more airports, more incinerators, more more more of this being required, and since the evidence would suggest that people by and large don’t like these things – especially if they are near them – I think that is the key issue about immigration that people may wish to face up to.

“One argument says ‘We are a small island, not much room’.

“On the other hand, of course – there is masses of room. The urbanised part of Britain occupies less than 10% of the surface area.

“The urbanised part of Surrey occupies less of Surrey than golf courses. So in some senses, plenty of space.

“But as you know, explaining the situation … there’s plenty of room, these issues are really not very important, it doesn’t get you very far. This is not the way people think about these things.

“People think about these things on the basis of their experience and what they read in the newspapers.

“Most of the things that people object to arise because there are just more people.”

Published: Wednesday 10th December 2014 by The News Editor

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