Are there 600,000 unemployed EU migrants in the UK?

14 October 2013


"An EU study has found 600,000 unemployed migrants are living in Britain" 

The Sunday Telegraph, 13 October 2013

Last week, the government unveiled details of its Immigration Bill which aims to save taxpayers' money by limiting migrants' access to public services.

The Sunday Telegraph added impetus to this already heated debate by reporting that a leaked European Commission report had found that 600,000 "jobless" migrants had made the UK their home, claims which were described by the Commission itself as "a gross and totally irresponsible misrepresentation of the facts." So what is the source of the controversy?

The report in question has now been published, and it does reveal significant problems with the Sunday Telegraph's story.

The 600,000 figure actually refers to the number of economically "non-active" EU migrants living in Britain. While these are people who aren't in work, it doesn't follow that they are unemployed. To be unemployed under the International Labor Organization definition, which is used by the ONS and others to calculate unemployment figures, a person must actually be economically active, as they are actively seeking work and ready to begin if it is found.

While the distinction might not sound like much, it does have a big impact on how we understand the 600,000 figure. According to the European Commission, only 28% of the total is made up of jobseekers, less than the proportion accounted for by pensioners (30%). The 600,000 figure will also capture students and the disabled.

In fact, the Commission's report found that EU migrants were less likely to be non-active than British nationals. While 30% of EU nationals in the UK are non-active, 43% of British nationals are likewise (although, as the OBR has pointed out, this may owe much to the age structure of immigrants, who are more likely to be of working age when they arrive on these shores). Similarly, whereas 77% of working-age EU nationals were employed, 68% of British nationals in the same age bracket could say the same.

When it comes to the cost burden placed on the NHS for providing healthcare to these non-active migrants, the Telegraph claims that £1.5 billion is spent annually. This does reflect the upper estimate of €1.8 billion (£1.53bn) provided by the Commission for the 379,100 people eligible (excluding students and pensioners whose costs are covered by other member states). If the lower estimate is taken, the total falls to £930 million.

This means that between 0.7% and 1.1% of health expenditure in the UK is directed at non-active EU migrants, the upper bound of which is the third highest proportion of all the countries considered for the European Commission's study (behind Cyprus and Ireland).

We'll be asking the Sunday Telegraph for a correction.

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