Immigration policy is a hot topic in UK politics, but is it actually costing British jobs?
I'm not sure the British have such a big problem with unskilled migrants as they like to think.
This report highlights the trends in the UK low-skilled job market from the 80s/90s to 2013:
It seems to suggest that migration patterns are consistent across the skill spectrum and that migrants have not significantly or unfairly displaced UK born workers.
Here is a selection from chapters 3 ("Recent migration to the UK and factors affecting this") and 4 ("Employment in low-skilled work"):
3.4 Migrants accounted for approximately 16 per cent of all low-skilled employment aged 16-64 in the UK, slightly above the overall share of the population but broadly in line with their share of all employed persons, regardless of skill level.
3.8 One million migrants in low-skilled work in 2013 have come to the UK within the last ten years. Half of these came from Central and Eastern Europe, following EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007. Over 300,000 came from Poland, who account for around one in six of all migrant workers in low-skilled employment and almost one in three of those who arrived since 2004. Even so, by 2013 migrants from Central and Eastern Europe still accounted for little more than a quarter of all foreign born workers in low-skilled occupations.
4.4 We also considered the ‘hollowing out’ of the labour market and while the evidence is not definitive, there have clearly been substantial changes in the type of jobs available. This has important implications for the composition of the labour force by gender and progression up the skill ladder.
4.5 While the overall UK employment rate has been stable since 2000, there have been important shifts by gender and age. The employment of UK-born aged 50 to 64 has increased, while the employment of other UK-born groups has declined. These changes in employment correspond to changes in population, with the exceptions of the 50 to 64 age group, for whom employment has increased more than the growth in population, and the under 25 age group, for whom population increased but both employment and participation fell.
4.6 It might be thought that the decline in employment for the under 25 age group is associated with greater competition with migrants for low-skilled jobs. While this is possible we note that the youth unemployment rate is comparable to 30 years ago when there was far less migration. There are other factors to consider as well, such as the increase in the number of 16 to 24 year olds choosing to stay in education, which therefore affects the number that will be in work and participating in the labour force.
4.21 The decline in low skilled employment among the UK-born was more than offset by a 2 million increase in high skilled working. High-skilled employment among migrants also expanded considerably from 1 million in 1997 to 2.3 million by 2013.
4.54 In contrast to the older age group, while employment of men and women aged under 25 has decreased, their population has increased. This results in large decreases in their employment rates of 14 percentage points for men aged under 25 and nine percentage points for women aged under 25. We explore reasons for these changes, such as greater participation in tertiary education, just below in section 4.6.
4.55 Overall, between 1997 and 2013 the employment rate for the 16 to 64 UK- born population has increased by half a percentage point and this would have been affected by the recession post-2008. Changes in population and participation rates by gender and age have been largely offsetting such that overall the UK-born employment rate appears to have been relatively unaffected during the period of significant and rapid migration to the UK. However, although the overall measure has hardly changed, there have been some important shifts by gender and age, where employment has increased for some groups and decreased for others.
4.63 It is possible that a contributing factor to the changes in youth unemployment and NEET rates is the increase in migration to the UK during the mid-2000s. This is particularly relevant for low-skilled employment, since as Office for National Statistics (2014k) points out, young people are more likely to work in the lowest skilled jobs, particularly elementary occupations and sales and customer service occupations. Young people could, therefore, experience greater competition for such jobs, due to the increase in migrants also looking for work in these areas.
4.64 However, at national level the youth unemployment rate has been at similar levels before, during a time of much lower migration. The unemployment rate for 16 to 24 year olds was the same in 1984 as it was in 2013 (Office for National Statistics (2014k)). In fact, the proportion of the total population of 16 to 24 year olds who are unemployed is lower in 2013 than it was in 1984, 13 per cent compared to 15 per cent.
4.86 Many 16 to 24 year olds will not want to pursue further academic study. It is important for this group that they are able to gain requisite skills through vocational education and work experience. Wolf (2011)’s comprehensive review of vocational education in England “found conclusive evidence of serious problems in current provision: problems which impact directly on young people and their futures,” and came to the damning conclusion that “too many of our young people are being short-changed.”
4.110 It might be considered that the decline in employment for the under 25 age group is primarily due to greater competition with migrants for low-skilled jobs. While this is possible we note that the youth unemployment rate is comparable to 30 years ago when there was far less migration and that the state of the economy and level of demand play important roles in labour market outcomes for 16 to 24 year olds. In addition, academic attainment, work experience and soft skills all play a role in determining a young person’s access to employment and training opportunities. Basic qualifications, especially English and mathematics, are incredibly important for their employment prospects. There is evidence to suggest that the skills of young people in these areas are placing them at a disadvantage in today’s labour market.