Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2376

Do migrants take jobs and lower wages?

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Issue 2376

Eight eastern European countries joined the EU in 2004—the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. 

Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2007, but faced restrictions on the ability of their citizens to work in other EU countries. These will be lifted at the start of next year.

Some 560,000 migrants came to Britain in the two years from 2004. It had no measurable impact on wages. 

Indeed wages rose for low-skilled and low-paid workers by more than in previous years. These are the people who are supposed to suffer from competition from migrants.

In this period immediately following 2004 wages for migrant workers fell. 

But surveys show this reflected a shift away from higher paid workers from Western Europe coming to Britain rather than wages falling for particular jobs.

The period of highest migration from eastern European countries was the boom years between 2004 and 2008.

Wages overall rose for both migrants and British-born workers in that period. In the recession that followed wages fell for both groups. 

The biggest factor on wages and conditions was not whether a workplace employed migrants, but whether it had trade union organisation.


It is hardly surprising that the Tories keep pedalling the myth that migrants drive down wages. But it is shameful that Ed Miliband and the Labour Party often echo it. 

One of the most common myths is that migrants cause unemployment by taking jobs that could have gone to someone else. 

But the number of jobs available is not fixed. Jobs are created and snatched away by bosses.

Figures show that workers migrate when there are jobs available, as there were in Britain in 2004. Fewer people come when the number of jobs goes down.

Ed Miliband argues that migrants put “pressures on scarce resources such as housing and schools”. But migrants make much less use of public services—and pay more taxes to fund them.

In 2008-9, eastern European migrants made up 0.91 percent of the population. 

But they accounted for just 0.6 percent of public spending—while paying 0.96 percent of the total tax collected. They paid an estimated 1.3 percent of all VAT.

The idea that migrants just come over and go on the dole is far from the truth. Many work in public services.

 In fact migrants are 60 percent less likely to claim state benefits than people born in Britain. They are also 58 percent less likely to live in social housing. 

This is not something to celebrate. The welfare state should be there for everyone, whatever country they were born in.

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