August 24, 2012 • 3:00 pm

“Employment has risen by 510,000 since the election, but most of this is attributable to foreign-born workers. They are still coming to our flatlining economy and finding work at a rate of 500 people a day, twice the rate for British born workers.”

The Telegraph, 23 August 2012

Recent weeks have seen a continual debate on the state of the UK’s labour market, with positive unemployment figures reported alongside accusations that some in the British workforce are too lazy and idle compared to the rest of the world. 

In the wake of the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Telegraph today published a piece bemoaning the state of the UK’s labour market, stressing that:

“Britain’s labour market is broken – and fixing it should be the first priority.”

Despite the recession, the paper claimed that UK employment has actually risen by half a million since the election but that this is mainly the result of foreign-born workers coming to the UK and finding twice as many jobs per day than British-born workers.

Analysis

Table 8 of the most recent labour market statistics publication from the ONS presents data on employment levels by country of birth, which allows us to compare UK-born to individuals to those born abroad.

Considering that the Telegraph refers specifically to post-election employment, the table below juxtaposes the second quarter (April-June) of 2010 with the most recent estimates.

Employment levels by country of birth (thousands):

Quarter

Total

UK born

Non-UK born

April-June 2010

28,901

25,055

3,840

April-June 2012

29,414

25,213

4,193

As we can see, total employment increased by 513,000 people. 158,000 of this is accounted for by UK-born workers and 353,000 for those born elsewhere. The remaining 2,000 did not declare their country of birth.

Rounding aside, these figures would appear to substantiate the first part of the Telegraph’s claim. Unfortunately, because the data is split into quarters we cannot know the precise change since the election (i.e. since the 5 May 2010) but have no reason to believe that the result would alter radically.

From this data, we can estimate the daily increase in the number of people in employment by dividing the increase for each category by 731 days (365 days multiplied by 2 plus an additional day for the leap year).

Plugging the numbers in, on average an additional 216 UK-born workers entered employment every day. The figure for foreign born workers was 483; close enough the Telegraph’s 500 and comfortably more than twice that of UK-born workers.

Are the foreign-born workers ‘coming to’ the UK?

The actual claim in the Telegraph appears to be referring to the number of foreign-born workers ‘coming to our flatlining economy’ and finding work.

However the data doesn’t show whether or not the foreign-born workers in question are coming to the UK to find work; all we know is that they were not born here.

With this in mind, it’s difficult to use this evidence to form an assessment of the state of the UK labour market as it is quite possible that the foreign-born individuals were part of the UK’s labour supply for a long time prior to employment. Put simply, we do not know just how long they had been living in the UK.

Fortunately, the ONS also presents data on UK employment levels by country of nationality.

Employment levels by country of nationality (thousands):

Quarter

Total

UK national

Non-UK national

April-June 2010

28,901

26,501

2,397

April-June 2012

29,414

26,834

2,578

Biannual change

+513

+333

+181

Here, the increase in employment for UK nationals was greater than that for non-UK nationals.

Considering that we have already established that employment increased more among people born outside of the UK, it would appear that a notable proportion of this group are, in fact, UK nationals.

As for people with ‘dual nationality’, the ONS confirmed to us that these could fall into either category – UK nationals nor non-UK nationals. The reason for this is that, when respondents to the ONS survey state they have dual nationality, the first nationality they list is the one they are placed under for the sake of measurement.

A further cautionary tale, which the Telegraph has largely avoided today, is that the ONS make clear that:

“The estimates relate to the number of people in employment rather than the number of jobs. These statistics have sometimes been incorrectly interpreted as indicating the proportion of new jobs that are taken by foreign migrants.”

Conclusion

The figures used by the Telegraph are largely accurate but we would caution against drawing too many conclusions about the state of UK labour supply from them.

Although it is true that post-election employment among workers born outside of the UK has increased by a greater number than for those born within, we cannot know for definite whether this is the result of immigration.

Put another way, it is entirely possible that foreign-born workers have been living in the UK for a number of years. Moreover, many may even be UK nationals which would help to explain why the number of UK nationals in employment increased to a greater extent than that of foreign nationals.

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