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Tony Travers: the truth is out – Brexit will add billions to pay bills

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As Brexit continues to batter the enfeebled British political system, its consequences move inexorably towards us. 

One of the more predictable of these Brexit-themed changes is the need for the United Kingdom to develop new immigration rules to replace ‘free movement’ for citizens of the 27 remaining European Union countries.

To help the government, the independent Migration Advisory Committee recently published a report which suggested the economy could function effectively in future without additional low-skilled migrants of the kind who have come to the UK from the EU27. The MAC also suggested that the visa rules for high-skilled migrants should be liberalised.

Buried in the committee’s report are some fascinating observations about the impact of EU migration thus far and, of direct relevance to councils, the NHS and other public service providers, expert opinion on how non-migrants (ie UK residents) can be tempted into roles formerly filed by low-skilled migrants.

Thus, the MAC concludes “EEA migrants contribute much more to the health service and the provision of social care in financial resources and through work than they consume in services”. Also, “there is no evidence that migration has reduced the quality of healthcare”. Also, there is “no evidence that migration has reduced the educational attainment of other children or the choice of schools”. In short, EEA migration has been positive for Britain.

Looking ahead, as the ageing population increases and the social care and health sectors have to expand, the proposed reduction in low-skilled migrants will require higher public sector pay. “A sustainable funding model, paying competitive wages to UK residents, would alleviate many of the recruitment and retention issues. There will need to be “higher wages” or “migrant workers will be necessary to continue delivering these services”.

So now we know something else about Brexit. It, or its new migration policy, will require significant increases in social care, NHS and other public sector pay. Local government will need to work out the cost of moving away from a reliance on low-paid labour (not only migrants) and find billions extra to pay for care. Here is another headache for the ‘fair funding’ review and for the chancellor as the next spending review process starts.

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