Health minister claims the care system would collapse without migrant workers

Norman Lamb MP, pictured at Blakeney Hotel. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Norman Lamb MP, pictured at Blakeney Hotel. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

The care system would collapse without migrant workers, health minister Norman Lamb has warned as the government was accused of losing its grip on immigration policy.

The minister responsible for care said that, in the past, giving youngsters the right skills to compete had been a 'massive failure' and said a 'balanced view' should be taken of figures which showed some 24,000 citizens of Romania and Bulgaria arrived in the year to September 2013 – nearly three times the 9,000 who arrived in the previous year.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said around 70pc came to work, while 30pc came to study.

David Ruffley, a Tory MP in Suffolk, who is a strident campaigner to restrict immigration within the EU, questioned if the foreign workers were taking up British jobs at the expense of the British people.

'Whilst the government is delivering on reductions to non-EU immigration, the immigration it can do nothing about – migrants from the EU – is up. The key question is, are foreign workers from the EU taking up British jobs at the expense of British people?' he said.

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But Lib Dem North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said young people often didn't have the skills to do the jobs that migrants were coming to do. 'I'm acutely aware, for example, in my own area of interest that the care system in Norfolk, let alone everywhere else, would collapse without workers from other countries.

'The vast bulk of people who come to this country come to work and we benefit from that,' he added.

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'What we have been clear about is that our youngsters need to have the skills to compete for jobs... It is very tempting to claim that these people are coming into our system to take our benefits, but most are doing pretty vital jobs in care, in the hotel and hospitality industry... Most of these people are working very hard and contributing to our economy.'

Norwich South MP Simon Wright said: 'I have concerns over arbitrary targets for immigration. We cannot control when Britons come and go from our country, and we cannot control migration of EU citizens. So setting such targets is always going to be problematic and likely to be unachievable.'

The huge increase in numbers arriving from across the whole European Union (EU), over which the Government has much less influence, underlined the difficulties faced by Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May in slashing net migration to below 100,000 by the 2015 general election.

Ministers conceded no formal immigration controls can be imposed on EU migrants but insisted efforts were being made to cut out abuse of free movement in the region.

However, in a rare speech to both Houses of Parliament in the royal gallery of the Palace of Westminster, German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed free movement as 'one of the greatest achievements of European unification' in a sign any renegotiation will be a mountain to climb for the Government.

Experts at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said the figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest it is 'extremely unlikely' the Government will now hit its migration target.

'The key changes in this report are to EU migration - an area over which immigration policy has less direct influence,' Scott Blinder, director at the Migration Observatory, said. 'This highlights the fact that the net migration target is not something that can be delivered purely through policy, but relies on other trends as well.'

Some 532,000 people immigrated to the UK in the year ending September, up from the 497,000 people who arrived during the previous year, while 320,000 emigrants left the country, down from the 343,000 the previous year.

EU citizens arriving in the UK has driven the increase, rising to 209,000 from 149,000 the previous year, while some 65,000 citizens of so-called EU15 countries, that is pre-2004 members of the union, arrived to work in the UK in the period, an increase of 23,000 year-on-year.

Romanian and Bulgarian citizens arriving for work-related reasons in the same period stood at 17,000, of which 11,000 reported having a definite job, the ONS said, up from 2,000 the previous year.

The two eastern European countries joined the EU on January 1 2007. Since then, migrants from Bulgaria and Romania coming to the UK were subject to transitional employment restrictions, which placed limits on the kind of employment they could undertake - such as self-employed status or skilled work.

However, these restrictions ended on January 1 this year, giving unfettered access to the UK labour market.

Against a backdrop of growing concerns of an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians to the UK, and a surge in popularity for the UK Independence Party (Ukip), the Prime Minister last year unveiled a series of tough measures designed to clamp down on abuse of free movement between EU member states.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman and founder of campaign group Migration Watch UK, which has predicted the arrival of 50,000 Romanians and Bulgarians each year for the next five years, said: 'The figures also show that net migration from Romania and Bulgaria was about 20,000 in the year to last September, even before the restrictions were lifted. We believe this confirms our estimate of 50,000 a year over the next five years.'

The number of National Insurance numbers given to foreigners - an important indicator of immigration levels - showed a 19% rise to 617,000 in 2013.

There were also large increases in the number of citizens of crisis-hit eurozone countries, such as Portugal, Italy and Greece.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: 'These figures show the Government's net migration target is in tatters, and their immigration policy is a mess.'

Immigration of non-EU citizens saw a statistically significant decrease to 244,000 in the period, down from 269,000 the previous year.

Statisticians said this was due to fewer New Commonwealth citizens - such as those from India - migrating to the UK for formal study.

Immigration and security minister James Brokenshire, who recently took on the role after Mark Harper MP stepped down amid controversy surrounding the immigration status of his cleaner, said: 'Uncontrolled, mass immigration makes it difficult to maintain social cohesion, puts pressure on our public services and forces down wages for people on low incomes.'

He added: 'The Government is ensuring that our controls on accessing benefits and services, including the NHS and social housing, are among the tightest in Europe.

'We cannot impose formal immigration controls on EU migrants, so we are focusing on cutting out the abuse of free movement between EU member states and seeking to address the factors that drive European immigration to Britain.'

However, the drop in non-EU citizens is likely to fuel fears that Britain is being perceived as 'closed for business' by foreign students who are seen by many as valuable to the British economy.

Mark Hilton, head of immigration policy at business membership organisation London First, said limiting non-EU migrants had previously 'hit both highly-skilled immigrants that we need, as well as foreign students, who are a huge economic asset'.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: 'These latest figures show just how out of control the Government is when it comes to controlling immigration in and out of the UK. It is utterly pointless setting immigration targets when you can't even decide who comes into this country.'

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