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Brits aren’t losing out on UK jobs as survey shows firms don’t favour overseas labour

New research challenges the “myth that UK firms are ignoring local workers in favour of overseas labour”.


Brexit supporters argue the UK needs to “take back control” of our borders, complaining that British workers are losing out because migrants are taking British jobs. As James Moore in the Independent reports, this is a claim that is now being adopted even by “liberal minded politicians”. The leaked Home Office immigration paper suggests the government has wholeheartedly adopted this claim with proposals the Guardian reported as having a “Britain first” theme running through them.

UK industries react to leaked Home Office paper on immigration

So are British workers losing out on jobs? A new survey of businesses by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and Middlesex University suggests not. In fact, it found businesses are actually struggling to fill vacancies with half of those surveyed reporting skills or labour shortages. The BCC’s annual workforce survey also found only 8% of businesses targeted workers from overseas to fill vacancies. Instead, the most common ways for businesses to recruit include increasing investment in recruitment (35%), training (31%) and, pay and benefits (29%). It’s more likely the reason for recruiting from overseas has more to do with the challenges of filling vacancies in the UK rather than ignoring British workers.

The BCC said: “the results challenge the myth that UK firms are ignoring local workers in favour of overseas labour”. And in comments on the report, Jane Gratton, head of business environment and skills at the BCC said “skills and labour shortages are prevalent across the economy, with half of UK businesses struggling to fill vacancies in the last year.” Gratton noted “many of our businesses benefit from having a diverse workforce with staff members from across the EU and beyond”. She also warned “a significant minority of UK firms say they will be negatively affected by restrictions to this pool of talent.”

Firms are already struggling to fill vacancies, so drawing a line in the sand purely for the sake of it, will only exacerbate the issue and slow economic growth further.

Jane Gratton, head of business environment and skills at the British Chambers of Commerce

With firms already struggling to fill vacancies, Gratton said “drawing a line in the sand purely for the sake of it, will only exacerbate the issue and slow economic growth further.”

As today’s employment figures show, the number of people in employment is at a record high. BCC’s head of economics Suren Thiru said it showed “the UK jobs market remains resilient” despite “a softening economic picture”. But he noted the number of vacancies at “well above the historical average”. Thiru said this is “a further indication of the continued skills shortage faced by business, which is weighing on productivity and growth prospects”.

Low wage growth also not due to immigration

This BCC and Middlesex University survey isn’t the first to contradict claims being made that immigration is negatively impacting British workers. Lib Dem leader Vince Cable recently revealed that whilst she was the home secretary, Theresa May suppressed up to nine studies that showed “immigration had very little impact on wages or employment” because the results were “inconvenient”.

Cable expands on this in a piece in the Guardian. The Independent also reports how economic research by Sir Stephen Nickell has been “widely misrepresented” by politicians who said it was evidence that immigration had a negative effect on wages. However, Nickell said the negative impact is “infinitesimally small”. And a study by the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance found that “falls in wages after 2008 are due to the global financial crisis and a weak economic recovery, not to immigration.” Another explanation for low wage growth in the UK, as pointed out by Bank of England economist Andy Haldane, is the growing gig economy and falling rates in workers joined to a union.

The research by the Centre for Economic Performance also found that, overall, immigrants help to create more employment opportunities and “do not have a negative effect on local services” including education, health and social housing.


Image: © IR Stone / Shutterstock.com
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