Author : ALISON LITTLE, DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR
Senior Tory Iain Duncan Smith today clashed with business leaders after he accused them of not even trying to find British staff before they hire European Union nationals. The pro-Brexit former party leader also urged employers to pay staff enough to stop them needing top-up state benefits – which were a big “pull factor” for EU immigrants to Britain.
The MP launched his broadside after employers’ organisation the Confederation of British Industry called on the Government radically to reform the immigration system for the post-Brexit era.
It said borders could be both “open and controlled”, with new EU arrivals required to leave after three months if they are not studying, working or self-sufficient, while also making it easier for firms to hire foreign staff with the skills they need.
It wants the Government to drop its “blunt” and target of cutting net immigration to under 100,000 a year from the current figure of around 280,000.
Ex-Work and Pensions Secretary Mr Duncan Smith told the BBC: “A lot of employers simply have not even bothered to try and find UK people to work.
“I think the best thing to do is work with what we have got and make it work for everyone around the world.
“You basically extend the work permit process across the EU and the rest of the world.
“People can come here for work but they need to have work to come to and that work needs to have been agreed and accepted that there isn’t a person in the UK that could do that work and has the skills to do that work.”
He also claimed the availability of welfare benefits skewed the jobs market and wage levels.
“Access to benefits, including child benefits even if you don’t have your children with you, has distorted the whole system around them being able to offer much cheaper wages and have them completely topped up,” he said.
“In the last year figures were available, more than £4.1billion was spent on people from the EU who have come over here getting tax credits, child benefits, housing benefits.
“That’s one of the great pull factors.
“Leaving the EU, we should not be offering for people to come over here just looking for work and to claim benefits.
“We need a living wage that does not require people to come over here and claim benefits to top up.”
CBI deputy director-general Josh Hardie hit back: “The suggestion that British businesses do not even bother to look at British workers to fill roles is wholly detached from reality and needlessly provocative to the thousands of firms across the UK facing labour and skills shortages.
“Businesses are trying to have a balanced, honest debate about a new immigration system for the UK.
“We need to build this model from facts, not fantasy.”
But Mr Duncan Smith appeared to find an ally in Labour MP John Spellar, who said: “Bleating bosses should do more training of youngsters and workers in the UK rather than relying on bringing in workers from the EU.
“As an example the CBI cite nurses, yet the Tory Government and useless NHS bureaucrats cut training numbers, denying thousands of hopeful youngsters of the chance of a fulfilling career.
“Recruiting from abroad has been a sticking plaster over their failure in this and many other sectors, and it’s time to call a halt.”
The CBI said the system should recognise the vital economic value of immigration to Britain, and that “most credible studies” show foreign workers pay more in taxes than they get in benefits.
The Government should not introduce visas for EU citizens, and businesses would not cope if existing requirements for non-European migrants were simply extended to Europeans.
Migration should be part of trade talks with the EU and other countries, where visa requirements hinder trade and inward investment, it said.
Mr Hardie said public confidence would be boosted by a system which dropped simplistic targets and ensured every migrant contributed to the country, while also getting more funding to schools and hospitals if population growth increased demands on them.
He warned the country could face crippling staff shortages without “fast, sustainable, evidence-based action” to ensure organisations could get the people they need.