UK Politics

House price boom helps migrant workers - Willetts

David Willetts

Migrants gain an advantage over British workers in the jobs market because they are willing to share accommodation, a former business minister has said.

David Willetts said high house prices in London and the South-East should "superficially" act as a deterrent to migrant labour.

But, he suggested at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference, the opposite was true.

House prices rose 9.4% in the year to September, according to the Nationwide.

The Conservative MP said: "The paradox is that a lot of migrant workers are coming into areas with very high house prices. It is, superficially, a rather peculiar phenomenon."

But he added: "The willingness, especially of single migrants, to share accommodation, including quite extraordinary arrangements, where you have one room and one has it for 12 hours and another has it for the other 12 hours... gives you a heck of an advantage, which increases the higher house prices go."

Airline pilots

As an example, he said someone "trying to move down from Liverpool" might have to pay £200 a week rent - but they might be up against "two Australians" working in a pub "and each of them will have the room for 12 hours, then that rent is £100 a week".

He added: "The higher the rental rates go, the greater the competitive advantage you can gain by being willing to be more intensively housed."

Mr Willetts was speaking at a Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) debate on why British employers seem to prefer foreign labour and what can be done about it.

The CIPD has produced a report which found businesses hired migrants for their experience and commitment, which made it tougher for UK-born young people seeking their first job.

But it also found organisations that employed a lot of foreign workers were also more willing to offer internships, work experience and apprenticeships than those that did not.

Mr Willetts, who was minister for universities and science until July's reshuffle, said another factor was the declining birth rate in the 1990s, which meant there would be a drop in the number of young British people entering the workforce over the next 10 years - a gap that had been "neatly" filled by east European migrants.

He said some business sectors - such as agriculture and care homes - would rather bring in cheap foreign labour than invest in new equipment and training and that business model "had to change".

And he suggested the government should consider providing funds for more vocational training.

The government would pay for someone to study classics at university - not that that there was anything wrong with that, he hastily added - but it did not pay for people to qualify as HGV drivers or airline pilots.

Between 5% and 10% of the letters he had received as a minister, he said, had been from aspiring airline pilots asking why there was no funding available for their training.