Britain has opened up its welfare state to the world

Britain's creaking welfare state can't cope with mass immigration
Britain's creaking welfare state can't cope with mass immigration - Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP

Immigration to Britain is stunningly high, with more than one million people arriving in 2022. If this migration was driven by the world’s best and brightest coming to enrich our economy, that might be just about tolerable. Instead, too many migrants are benefiting from the largesse of the British government.

Just 335,000 of those coming in the year to September arrived on work visas. The numbers were made up by their 250,000 dependants, some 486,000 students, 153,000 dependants of students, and a surge in humanitarian and family visas (a little under 200,000).

This is not immigration as economic rocket fuel, but as a short-term patch. The dependants of people brought in to avoid paying British care-home workers more are unlikely to add significant economic value, and we can see this in the data; only 25 per cent or so are in work.

People arriving on social care visas are exempt from paying the NHS surcharge, and tend to work in low-paid roles. There is a good chance that they are a net fiscal drain even though they cannot claim benefits; the rest of the country pays for the schools their children attend and their healthcare, too.

Similarly, the proliferation of university courses acting as de facto entry routes for those seeking a right to work is likely to select less for academic superstars, and  more for those who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for work visas. While also ineligible for benefits, their presence puts pressure on creaking infrastructure and tightly constrained housing.

The only way in which the Government’s plans to crack down on such exploitation should be controversial is that they do not go far enough. Many would think that low-skilled foreign labour should be seen more like guest workers than potential citizens with a time-limited period in the country.

The alternative sets up problems for the future. Once people become permanent residents, the cost to the taxpayer can rise considerably, particularly if they retire here. It’s partly for this reason that several studies prior to Brexit found that non-EU migrants made a negative contribution to the public finances.

Other indicators bear this pessimistic perspective out. Despite many theoretically being selected for their ability to work, foreign-born residents are more likely to live in social housing than those born in the UK. In a country with a chronic housing shortage worsened by immigration, this is adding insult to injury.

This isn’t the result of a cold-eyed, self-interested system designed to benefit Britain and the British public; that would have people work here when young, and retire at home when old. Instead, we have a charitable programme propped up by Government incompetence.

Much “necessary” immigration – students, care workers, doctors and nurses – is necessary only because government interventions and price controls have so distorted the market that it no longer functions. But tackling these problems is hard, while turning up the flow of immigration is easy.

This is great for politicians and migrants. The only people it doesn’t really work for are British citizens, who find themselves effectively funding a welfare state for the world. Is it any wonder the social contract is nearing breaking point?

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