Friday, October 19, 2007

Migrant workers earn more than British

As a group, the Brits are a conspicuously lazy lot by U.S. or Australian standards so it would not be hard to work harder than them and earn more money. What the report below ignores, of course, is WHICH group earns the big money. At a guess I would put Australians, Americans and Germans at the top and Arabs and Africans way down

Immigrant workers are both higher paid and more reliable than their British counterparts and contributed £6 billion to economic growth last year, a Government study said yesterday.

However, a separate paper issued together with the study by the Home Office admitted there were complaints about the impact of immigration on housing and other public services. Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, said the research showed that ''in the long run, our country and Exchequer are better off with immigration rather than without it".

The report found that in 2006, record immigration pushed the number of foreign workers up to 12.5 per cent – or one eighth – of the labour force, compared to 7.4 per cent a decade ago. Since average output growth over this period was 2.7 per cent a year and migration contributed an estimated 15 to 20 per cent of this, the study estimated a contribution of 6 billion pounds from foreign workers – or 700,000 a day.

However, the figure does not take account of the costs of a growing population, for instance the impact on public services such as health, education and transport. But the overwhelmingly positive findings were last night challenged by academics.

Robert Rowthorn, an emeritus professor of economics at Cambridge University, warned that as well as putting pressure on services, large-scale migration would "undermine the labour market position of the most vulnerable sections of the local workforce". The study, the first official attempt to establish the economic and fiscal impact of the record levels of immigration seen in recent years, states that ''in the long run, it is likely that the net fiscal contribution of an immigrant will be greater than that of a non-immigrant". It also claims there is no evidence of foreign workers pushing British people out of jobs, although it presents no firm evidence for this.

David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: ''Labour are being disingenuous again. "They are equating the effect of migration on aggregate GDP with its effect on GDP per head. They are also ignoring the fact that relying on immigration to boost the economy is a short-term answer. "What will they do for the million economically inactive under-25s in the country?" [Cut off their government dole?]


Stop feeding the dysfunctional NHS

Whatever you made of the Chancellor's various sleights of hand on Tuesday, lurking beneath his Budget plans was one inescapable fact. The hungry maw of the NHS is swallowing more and more resources, at the expense of virtually everything else. The defence budget is at its lowest since 1930, despite our dwindling troops being dotted across three continents. Prison overcrowding is at such record levels that Jack Straw will have to release even more inmates early in a few weeks' time. But the health service marches relentlessly on, having hoovered up two thirds of the increase in public spending in the past five years.

Even "enterprise" - once one of Mr Brown's favourite words - has been tapped. This week's new taxes on small business seemed unwise, given the fragility of the economy. They were also wholly avoidable, had the NHS been awarded the 3 to 3.5 per cent spending settlement that was expected. But a 4 per cent annual rise for the NHS, raising its budget from o90 billion to almost o110 billion by 2010, seemed to have become a political imperative.

Why? Well, 4 per cent is a nice round number. It is also more than half the 7 per cent annual increases that the service has got used to. But it is also simply very hard to row back once you've built an expanded State. This applies to all public services - which is why I wonder whether Messrs Darling and Brown will actually meet their lower spending targets - but it is particularly acute in health.

The NHS is Britain's last big state monopoly. It is the largest employer in the developed world. Its 1.4 million staff outnumber the private and public healthcare workforce of Germany, a country with 25 per cent more people and better health outcomes. Its powerful unions view any slowdown in spending growth as a "cut". And cut is a deadly word in political terms. The Government had its chance, when it was flush with cash, to demand reform as a quid pro quo for more money. But it did not go far enough.

In the 1990s it was possible to argue that the NHS was starved of cash. But not any more. Britain is now spending at about the European average, but lags behind too many other European countries in terms of results. Far too many cancer patients, babies and stroke victims are still dying needlessly. Far too many patients, particularly the elderly, are treated with a callousness bordering on brutality. Almost everyone I know who has had a baby recently has been told by the nurses to bring their own Jif, and not to set foot in an NHS shower without scrubbing it. World-class that isn't.

Sir Derek Wanless, Gordon Brown's former health guru, reported last month that almost half of the extra o45 billion that has been spent in the past five years has gone on pay and price inflation. The NHS generates its own inflation as though it were a country in its own right. But the slowdown in government spending is not, sadly, due to a realisation that there are diminishing returns to spending in a monolithic health service. It is merely the Government running low on cash.

The real issues are repeatedly obscured by homilies about the NHS being the envy of the world. The latest to fall into this trap is Lord Darzi of Denham, the eminent surgeon who is supposed to be reviewing the structure of the NHS. Thank heavens he is still practising on Thursdays and Fridays. For his interim report last week was little more than an advert for the Government's two populist priorities: extending GP opening hours and tackling MRSA. Until then, the greatest worry about the Darzi review had been that it might delay progress towards much needed reforms. No one had dreamt that he would be coopted into a propaganda exercise. We do not need a top surgeon to tell us to wash our hands. Nor to invent another centralised "Innovation Council" to champion change, a snip at o100 million. The NHS badly needs more innovation. But you cannot impose it. You can only nurture it, by liberating doctors and by introducing competition.

If this simple fact is not obvious to ministers by now, then all is lost. For the limited moves that the last Blair administration made to introduce competition have paid off handsomely. Letting independent providers carry out some procedures has slashed waiting lists for hip replacements, cataracts and heart operations, and has raised the standard for what can be achieved. Payment by results and the NHS tariff have helped to make costs more transparent and to give a wake-up call to poor performers. Giving the best hospitals more freedom as foundation trusts, under a savvy regulator, has injected a new sense of financial rigour.

Yet ministers have always been embarrassed to claim credit for these achievements, which are loathed by the unions. They are in the strange position of presiding over some brave reforms while having to bloviate about minor issues: free health checks (didn't we used to get those at the doctor?) and expanded GP opening hours (which was the norm, until ministers decided to pay them more to do less).

Ministers are too easily persuaded that the battle is between public and private provision. They are ashamed to endorse the private. But the real battle is between those who want to protect their monopolies - including many private hospitals - and those who want competition. Many NHS insiders who believe most fervently in the service are those who are fighting for competition. But they are still an endangered species. It is of no help to them when ministers send ambivalent signals.

No one is quite sure yet how committed the new Prime Minister is to market-based reforms. The opposition parties will not ask him. Labour's largesse has boxed them into a corner. Neither Conservatives nor Liberals dare to make the case for proper reform. That is the real price of having built a bloated State. No one dares speak the truth, because there are so many vested interests to offend. But the writing is on the wall: a tax-funded free healthcare system is looking ever less sustainable. Politicians always fear the "popularity" of our health service. But that popularity will wane if the NHS comes to be seen as the enemy of every other public service.



The United Kingdom is planning to claim sovereign rights over a vast area of the remote seabed off Antarctica, the Guardian has learned. The submission to the United Nations covers more than 1m sq km (386,000 sq miles) of seabed, and is likely to signal a quickening of the race for territory around the south pole in the world's least explored continent.

The claim would be in defiance of the spirit of the 1959 Antarctic treaty, to which the UK is a signatory. It specifically states that no new claims shall be asserted on the continent. The treaty was drawn up to prevent territorial disputes.

The Foreign Office, however, has told the Guardian that data is being gathered and processed for a submission to the UN which could extend British oil, gas and mineral exploitation rights up to 350 miles offshore into the Southern Ocean.

Much of the seabed there is at such a depth that extraction of gas, oil or minerals is not yet technically feasible, but the claim may still anger neighbouring South American countries who believe they have more entitlement to the potentially valuable territory. The Antarctic submission reflects the UK's efforts to secure resources for the future as oil and natural gas reserves dwindle over the coming decades.


Britain. Revolt against atheist bishops: "The Church of England is facing a rift similar to that in the US Church after hundreds of leading evangelical clergy were told to invite bishops from outside their dioceses to carry out ordinations. Members of the 1,700-strong Reform group were told at their conference that they must not be afraid to ignore the wishes of their diocesan bishop if he refused to ordain conservative evangelical clergy. The advice mirrors the situation in the US, where conservatives have even had their own bishops ordained by evangelical Archbishops from Global South provinces such as Uganda. The Rev Rod Thomas, the group's new chairman, urged his members to resist the Church of England's "increasingly liberal agenda".

Attack on British drinkers: "According to the report, men who drink between 22 and 50 units of alcohol per week, and women who drink between 15 and 35 are most likely to reside in middle-class suburbs such as Harrogate and Runnymede. The news has been followed by the predictable clamouring of society's new high priests – the interventionist scientists – calling for the government to raise alcohol taxes in order to discourage consumption. Fears that the health service will come under unmanageable pressure as a result have been used as arguments for new government intervention to stop this social 'crisis'. It would be refreshing if these scientific puritans would finally realise that the NHS does not exist for their own intellectual titillation, but to serve its customers – the British people. We are not there to make its life easier, but vice versa. To constantly try and mould individuals into a convenient model for a failing health system is both misguided and draconian public policy."

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