Migrant workers accounted for 60% of net employment growth between 1996 and 2019 according to a new report by the Resolution Foundation. Their data shows that migrants account for 67% of net employment growth in the South East, 74% in the West Midlands and 107% in Outer London.
However, the net migration of EU workers coming into the UK has fallen by almost three-quarters, from 207,000 in 2015-16 to 58,000 in 2019-20. In addition, official but very uncertain data indicates that the number of foreign born adults working in the UK has fallen by 16% in the year to summer 2020, likely due to migrant workers leaving the UK.
It should be borne in mind that migrant workers soon ineligible for work permits are a significant proportion of the UK’s workforce, accounting for 5% of all employment in London and the East Midlands. In addition, some sectors will be more affected than others, with the Resolution Foundation finding that one in ten employees in food manufacturing are recently arrived EU migrants, and that these workers will be ineligible for work permits.
The reliance of some sectors on migrant workers was originally predicted to mean staff shortages in those sectors due to Brexit, however the jobs market is now very different due to increasing unemployment. It remains to be seen as to whether the UK’s unemployed people will choose to undertake roles archetypically done by migrants.
In sectors where there could be shortages, there is likely to be an increasing risk of exploitation due to greater pressure for illegal working. During the seminar that accompanied the publication of the Resolution Foundation report, the audience was asked to predict which sector they think is most likely to hire irregular workers, and the results were:
- Construction 60%
- Hospitality 35%
- IT 2%
- Retail 2%
A very interesting prediction, and hospitality may have been higher if it weren’t for the pandemic already having a significant impact there.
As ever, a side point of UK policy changes is the impact on workers, and it is essential that the government prioritises measures to protect workers from exploitation by unscrupulous firms.