Jobs growth: how much are foreign workers getting?

24 April 2015

"Under Labour, for years, 90 per cent of job growth was taken up by foreign workers. With the Conservatives, two-thirds of our job growth now benefits British citizens."—David Cameron in the Mail, 24 April 2015

Claims about job growth that goes to UK and foreign workers are common. This offering from David Cameron is right about the Coalition's time in office but wrong about Labour's time in office—the figure is accurate for the last year under Labour but doesn't reflect the general pattern of those years.

Mr Cameron is correct when he refers to the figures under the Coalition, depending slightly on which period you look at. In the last year about 60% of the growth in jobs is accounted for by UK nationals and since the three months prior to the election, that figure has been about two thirds.

The figures for Labour's time in office are more problematic.

The closest figure to the 90% quoted refers roughly to Labour's last year in office, and refers to UK and foreign nationals. From April to June 2009 to April to June 2010, 94% of employment growth was accounted for by foreign nationals. David Cameron has previously been clearer about this, saying earlier this week "when I first became Prime Minister: 90% were going to foreign nationals" (though to be clear, these aren't new jobs but a net change in employment).

Now we're told that this was the case for years, and this isn't right. The proportion, measured in this way, was volatile throughout Labour's period in office. Sometimes there were periods of falling employment as well and, most confusingly, sometimes there were periods of rising employment for one group and falling employment for the other.

Those periods mean this isn't always a useful measure because comparing the proportions of jobs growth for UK and foreign nationals when employment rises for one and falls for another produces numbers that are difficult to make sense of. In the year to the end of 2011, the number of UK nationals in employment fell while the number of non UK nationals in employment rose. Then the same calculation shows 1,125% of 'job growth' going to foreign nationals.

So for a broader sense, if you measure from the start of Labour's stint in office from 1997 to the end in 2010, the growth is split roughly half-and-half between UK and non-UK nationals.

The employment rates are also relevant to consider since they take into account the population of UK and non-UK nationals. At the end of last year, 74% of working-age UK nationals were employed, compared to 70% of non-UK nationals overall. Five years ago, that was 71% versus 67%, and in 1997 it was 72% versus 60%.

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