‘Immigrants are stealing British jobs’ is a message we’ve all probably read a million times in tabloids and a message we have probably all heard repeated up and down pubs in Britain; one used to sway people who have become disillusioned with the major parties, who have read and seen biased reports and who are concerned for their futures. Companies, newspapers and politicians have all sort to capitalise on anti-immigration sentiment and misconceptions.
During periods when the economy suddenly deflates like a sad balloon there is understandable anger among those adversely affected by it. An attempt to support and encourage unemployed Britons can often turn into hostility against the EU, companies that outsource and unfortunately immigrants hoping to contribute to Britain. Businesses have exploited these feelings by advertising using nationalistic slogans. For example, a November 2008 ﬂyer for solar heating asks ‘Why be held to ransom by Foreign energy companies?’ Many industries in the UK now promote products and services with ‘we have UK only call centres’ or we sell British beef, that came from British cows, that use to chew on British grass before we killed it for you to eat, in a British field, somewhere in Britain and so on. Globalisation has brought the good and the bad, but this builds a picture of a nation that not only wants to support British industry and its citizens but one that wants to close itself off from the world.
Many of us read articles taking opinions and statistics as the gospel truth without realising that articles can contain bias; with omitted and tailored information to play to their audiences. Media can sculpt and mirror stereotypes and prejudices, whilst governments reinforce them. On January 11th this year the Daily Express ran with the headline ‘Immigrants do take British jobs.’ Adding an ‘official report now confirms what the Daily Express has said all along,’ following a report by the Migration Advisory Committee. The report in fact stated that migration may ‘displace’ British workers (on average, it takes 13 immigrants to ‘displace’ one British job) but didn’t say they were the cause of unemployment. If we’re going to blame migrants for the unemployment of all Britons, we might as well start blaming them for our depressing weather, obese children and Jedward whilst we’re at it. (ED: Ok, the last one might well be down to immigration, accepted.)
‘…this possible displacement of British workers only holds for those migrants who have been here for under five years… Between 1995 and 2010 employment of such working age migrants rose by approximately 2.1 million. The associated displacement of British born workers was, on our own calculations, around 160,000 of the additional 2.1 jobs held by migrants, or about 1 in 13.’
Upon the advice of strategists some politicians have stepped up the anti-immigration rhetoric adopting slogans such as “British jobs, for British people,” as opposed to advocating less low skilled immigration, a promise of more jobs, or better education and training for Britons. These statements are not always xenophobic in intention, but are divisive in their effect and consequence. There has been an increase in statements linking high unemployment to the presence of immigrants but minimal mention of the skills shortages for certain professions in Britain which employ large numbers of immigrants. According to MigrationWatch ‘the health and social work sector employs one in seven of all immigrants in the UK’. Mainly because the NHS suffered shortages of staff since its birth which was solved, as it is now, by ‘importing’ nurses, doctors and care assistants from overseas.
Successive governments have also consistently let anti-EU segments of their party attack the EU without effectively highlighting its benefits. Consequently, Britain has become the most hostile European country and the most ignorant to it according to the European Commission 2008 survey. Tory MP Mr Sheerman hit headlines after expressing his views on EU immigration via Twitter. He implied that the staff at Camden Food Co were incapable of producing a good bacon bap because they were Polish, and that British staff would be better. ‘Just had worst coffee & bacon bap in London at Victoria Station. Why can’t Camden Food Co employ English staff?’ He replied to allegations of xenophobia with ‘I am not a xenophobe. I am an MP and I represent the good folk of Huddersfield not Gdansk!’ Mr Sheerman later clarified that he wishes the British residents of Huddersfield would get job opportunities before ‘someone who arrived from Eastern Europe yesterday.’ Yet according to the Telegraph, ‘those immigrants who do “take” British jobs are temporary, non-EU workers – many are young Australians, Canadians and so on with working holiday visas, rather than Polish plumbers.’
With all the hard-line rhetoric on immigration you would think that if we simply kept them all out, unemployment among natives would quickly and naturally fall, right? Wrong! Even if we placed scarecrows around our airports to frighten them all away, what about the impact it would have on businesses and the economy as a whole? Around 17 per cent of economic growth in 2004 and 2005 was attributed to immigration. What would happen if we allowed talented Britons to leave without replacing them? Estimated long-term emigration from the UK in 2011 was 343,000 and 347,000 in 2010. Many immigrants are taking low skilled jobs that British people don’t want, and others work hard to provide our most vital public services that face skills shortages and let’s not forget the immigrants that have moved to Britain and set up businesses that employ British people, you may have heard of Tesco’s and Marks&Spenser.
The Office for National Statistics released employment figures that showed a net increase of 188,000 people in work between April and June compared to January and March in 2010. Of those, the number of UK-born people employed rose by 41,000 whilst employment amongst those born outside the UK went up by 145,000. Soon after – ‘Foreigners take British jobs’ hit headlines. The fact is there’s simply no proof that immigrants cause unemployment. A report by the IPPR, which was in line with research in other OECD countries, ‘finds either no effect at all, or very small negative effects.’ The National Institute of Economic and Social Research’s assessment, also determined there was no connection along with researchers Sara Lemos and Jonathan Portes. The Migration Advisory Committee (Mac), on the other hand, found an ‘association’ between immigration and unemployment, but concluded that migration from the EU had ‘little or no impact on the native employment rate.’ For every 100 non-EU working-age migrants who came to Britain over the last 15 years, 23 ‘native workers’ lost their jobs, also according to Mac. However this effect is temporary and the labour market recovers within five years to absorb the displaced British employees. ‘David Metcalf, the Mac’s chairman, suggested that jobs in computing and information technology, where there are skills shortages, and in hospitality and retail, where large numbers of foreign students work part-time, could have been affected.’ This highlights the necessity for more research to discover whether there is any connection in these industries. And if so discussion about balancing the need for low skilled migration or the economic contributions of foreign students that sustains thousands of jobs across the UK economy in colleges, universities and local economies, with making sure competing young people are not missing opportunities to obtain jobs in industries such as hospitality and retail. But the debate on immigration is being hijacked by anti-immigration and xenophobic rhetoric, stopping these overdue rational conversations.