It is often bandied around as a ‘fact’ that foreign workers in the UK cause wage growth to be stifled and prevent native British citizens from acquiring work or, at least, secure well-paid employment. How much of this is reality and how much of it fantasy?
The Independent wrote an article last year which stated that the UK labour market has indeed been bolstered very heavily by foreign workers – there was no correlation between foreign labour and wage stagnation. A report by Economics Help also reported that there was no “clear correlation” between higher unemployment or lower wages and higher migrant populations. In fact, the unemployment rate in the UK is at a ten year low and still falling according to the BBC. However, an IDEAS report stated that a positive effect on wages, or even no effect at all, caused by immigration could not be explained by immigration alone and may be the result of “immigrants are paid less than the value of what they contribute to production, generating therefore a surplus”. So is immigration negative in any way?
The Huffington Post wrote an article which more or less highlighted the lack of consensus throughout this whole issue. One thing it did lightly touch upon, however, was that the effect will be more felt by low paid unskilled workers in this country. There might also be seen a lack of opportunities to ascend to skilled employment due to lack of investment in apprenticeships when foreign labour is sought instead. The Daily Mail also wrote an article on the matter saying that “rogue bosses” exploited foreign labour which in turn caused young people to lose out on opportunities and also exerted enormous pressure on services. We can say that pressure is already being put on local services by Government spending cuts, even though population has increased due to migration, but the question may potentially lie with lack of wage inflation. It seems that wage inflation has remained very low over the last 6 years and is not necessarily going to rise anytime soon. This, however, cannot be directly linked to immigration itself but can instead be linked to a weaker economy. Put simply, there is no significant negative economic impact of immigrant workers – there are of course arguments to be made with regards to multiculturalism and a lack of commitment to the citizens of this country but this is not the place for that argument. There is one last stone to be unturned – is the British worker work shy?
A Full Fact report from 4 years ago deals with a Daily Mail and Daily Star report on the ‘laziness’ of British worker and then goes on to challenge this point of view as without substance. A Guardian report in 2013 discussed how the Bulgarian government has claimed that Britain needs Bulgarian workers because they are important to the British economy and British workers are “lazy”. While I cannot substantiate these claims there was certainly never any Romanian and Bulgarian stampede as was predicted which would have pushed British workers out. According to a Management Today report British ‘sickies’ could account for a quarter of the European total so if there is a general laziness it may exist within work and not just without it. Only last year Polish workers demanded that all immigrant labour go on strike in the UK to demonstrate how needed they were in the economy after the claims that they themselves were lazy. At the same time it seems that food bank use is now at a record high in the UK for in work Britons so in reality where there might be some laziness in some places it still seems there is plenty of in work poverty.
It would have given me great pleasure if I could end this article in a Harold MacMillan style to tell you that everything is better than it seems and that we have never had it so good. It is true that we now have access to more material goods than we ever have and that everyone has more opportunities but what is the cost? We still have families who struggle to feed themselves, an over inflated benefits culture and economic instability. The non-existent laziness of the British worker and the apparently negative impact of foreign labour have nothing to do with this – if it exists then it acts independently from the negative things we see in society.
Individuals are either lazy or not, good people or not. Claims such as have been made regarding foreign labour cannot continue unless substantiated by solid evidence. We can only face up to our shortcomings economically as one whole nation – not as a divided one.
Image credit: flickr.com/aigle_dore