More immigration is a no-brainer for the UK’s labour market 

Harrison Griffiths

October 13, 2022

Proposals from the Truss government to increase immigration have been met with scorn from the typical crowds. “The Brexiteers had one job”, said conservative writer Ed West, “miserable immigration policy”, said the communitarian bore Nick Timothy. Their view revolves around the classic anti-immigration talking points, such as vague predictions of doom for ‘the social fabric’ or anxieties around ‘the culture’. Forgive me for sounding like a rootless, atomistic cosmopolitan liberal, but my retort is a simple question: are high food prices good for social cohesion? 

Contrary to the apocalyptic reaction on the nationalist right, Truss’ reported immigration proposals will not open the border (much as I’d love to see it). They are an adjustment to the immigration system which will allow employers in sectors with chronically high job vacancies like agriculture to employ more foreign workers. The farming industry has called for 30,000 more visas to be issued, the social care sector has 105,000 vacancies, and there is a 100,000 HGV driver shortage. These contribute to the UK’s historically high job vacancies, which at 1.2 million are slightly more than the total number of those unemployed (itself at the lowest level since 1974). 

There is nothing cosmetic about these shortages, jobs which don’t get filled mean tangible price increases for consumers. During a cost-of-living crisis, up to £60 million worth of crops rotting is unfathomable. For the government to continue causing this waste in the name of ‘social cohesion’ would be unforgivable. 

Having unfilled roles in agriculture during a cost-of-living crisis is lunacy; having HGV driver vacancies during global supply chain disruptions is lunacy; having infrastructure projects delayed when the government aims to roll out broadband to 85% of households is lunacy. But fear not, this lunacy all has a purpose. As you sit in your wi-fi blackspot home with your expensive dinner, wondering where that phone charger you ordered from Amazon has got to – you’ll be comforted by the deep sense of meaning and community you’ll get from not having to hear somebody speaking a foreign language when you next walk down the high street. 

People are suffering the consequences of unfilled roles in key sectors right now, pointing out that fact is not an exercise in ‘thinking of people only as economic units’ or ‘undermining social cohesion’, it merely highlights the wishful thinking of those who believe they can centrally plan the workforce through tight immigration restrictions and not expect there to be negative consequences. 

I am not optimistic that Liz Truss will stay resolute in the face of opposition to more immigration. After all, the Conservative Party is utterly beholden to anti-immigration socialists in the so-called ‘Red Wall’, and it seems that the seemingly anti-immigration Home Secretary is not bound by cabinet collective responsibility. Nonetheless, I am happy to see some acknowledgement that we should not continue this pie-in-the-sky thinking which holds that restricting the supply of labour will not have potentially dire unintended consequences in the form of inflated consumer prices. 

We cannot afford luxury beliefs about immigration when food is rotting and people are struggling to make ends meet, I hope Liz Truss stands strong against those beliefs and implements a more sensible policy on immigrant work visas. 


Written by Harrison Griffiths

Harrison is Communications Officer at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

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