Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Brain Drain

If there's one thing I hate about the Daily Telegraph, it is its anti-business agenda.

Take this story, 'nine in 10 UK jobs go to foreigners'. Nowhere do they mention the benefits to business that this has created. Instead they go on about how jobs in manufacturing have been lost and how we have more skilled workers than ever before but they can't find jobs. From reading this, you might even think that they hadn't spent the last decade and longer demanding that UK economic policy be run in the interests of the City of London.

Looking at their table of how the number of foreign workers is increasing, there is an important column missing. There are 1.7 million more people in employment than in 1997, including 250,000 UK born, about 550,000 from elsewhere in the EU, and 900,000 who were born in the rest of the world. But there isn't a column about how many UK born people are working elsewhere in the world.

This is important, because if what is happening is that all around the world, more people are working abroad than ten years ago, so more foreign born people are working here and more Brits are working somewhere else, then that is very different from if Brits aren't able to get jobs for whatever reasons. But some evidence on this can be found in, you've guessed it, the Daily Telegraph. Apparently, Britain is experiencing the biggest 'brain drain' for fifty years, with 3.25 million people living abroad including 1.1 million graduates. That suggests that it isn't so much that skilled British workers are losing out, more that in increasing numbers they, like people from other countries, have a wider choice of where to work than just within their own country.

I think that there are many more winners than losers from this - I know a lot of people born in the UK who have spent time living and working abroad, and friends who were born elsewhere in the world and are now living and working in the UK. This is not to pretend that these changes have benefited everyone, and one massive problem in this country as in many others is that as a society we don't do enough to help and support people who have lost well paid jobs and can't find anything which pays as well; or who are trapped in low paid jobs and find that no matter how hard they work, their wages aren't rising; or who are expected on pain of losing benefits to find low paid jobs with long hours, on wages which would just about suit a single person living four to a room. The people who do well out of the ability to hire workers from other countries could contribute a lot more in paying better wages and more tax and still end up better off than if we followed the Daily Telegraph/Frank Field plan and restricted immigration.

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