Migrants in low-skilled work: the growth of EU and non-EU labour in low-skilled jobs and its impact on the UK: summary report: summary

Document type
Corporate author(s)
Great Britain. Migration Advisory Committee
Migration Advisory Committee
Date of publication
8 July 2014
Employment, Minority Groups
Social welfare
Material type

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Low-skilled work accounts for 13 million jobs, two million of which (16 per cent) are held by migrants. Those jobs held by migrants are split 60:40 non-EEA: EEA. A million migrants in low-skilled jobs have come to the UK in the last decade. Half of them were from Central and Eastern Europe following enlargement.

Five themes emerge from this investigation. First, our flexible labour market has mainly served us well, but there are insufficient resources devoted to key regulatory bodies such as HMRC, which enforces the national minimum wage, and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. Similarly, the penalties for breaching the regulations are not severe enough. There also needs to be more sharing of labour market intelligence among the agencies.

Second, the youth labour market is a concern. The investigation does not find strong evidence that this is a consequence of the expansion of the EU in 2004. Schools presently have an incentive to boost the number of A* - C grades in GCSE exams. This may imply insufficient attention is given to those towards the bottom (and top) of the ability range. Many apprenticeships do not stretch the individual sufficiently and have too little employer input. Greater attention needs to be given to raising the awareness of, and adjusting aspirations towards, available opportunities and improving the soft skills of those at the lower end of the ability range.

Third, there needs to be greater recognition of, and support for, the local impact of immigration. The non-UK born population of England and Wales grew by 2.9 million between 2001 and 2011. Three quarters of this rise was in just a quarter of local authorities. Although we show that, nationally, the economic impact of immigration on GDP per head, productivity and prices is very modest, the economic and social impact on particular local authorities is much stronger. This includes pressure on education and health services and on the housing market and potential problems around cohesion, integration and wellbeing.

Fourth, demand for migrant labour is strongly influenced by institutions and public policies not directly related to immigration. These include, for example, labour market regulation, investment in education and training, and pay levels in some publicly funded low wage jobs. The trade-offs between immigration levels and greater or lower investment in these areas is worthy of fuller discussion.

Fifth, the 2004 EU enlargement provides lessons for both the UK and other member states for any future EU expansion. There are eight candidate or potential candidate countries. They have a combined population of over 90 million and income levels mostly of around a third to a half the EU average. Given that differentials in income are a prime driver of migration flows, both the EU and British authorities will wish to think carefully how any future expansions are handled.

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