Immigration and unemployment in the UK

5 December 2016
What was claimed

1.7 million people in Britain today are unemployed.

Our verdict

Correct, as of July-September 2016. Although the figure hasn’t been adjusted to take into account the time of year, and by historic standards that’s a fairly low level of unemployment.

What was claimed

600,000 people aged 18-24 are unemployed.

Our verdict

That’s wrong, as of July-September 2016. About 520,000 people aged 18-24 were unemployed that summer. Taking the time of year into account, the ‘seasonally adjusted’ estimate was about 473,000.

What was claimed

The number of people who came to live in this country last year was the same as the population of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Our verdict

Not far off, assuming the claim is referring to net migration. The best estimate is that about 335,000 more people came to live in UK than left in the year leading up to June 2016. Only 293,000 people live in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

"It cannot be right that we have 1.7 million people in Britain today who are unemployed.”

Paul Nuttall MEP, 4 December 2016

It’s correct that there were about 1.7 million unemployed people in the UK at the last count, in July-September 2016.

That’s the number of people who had been looking for a job in the past month, or were waiting to start one in the next two weeks.

Some of the number was down to the time of year, since the number of unemployed people changes with the seasons. Among other things, lots of young people leave education and look for a job over the summer.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says that it can get a better view of unemployment if it works out the size of seasonal changes and adjusts the figures to smooth them out.

At about 1.6 million, what’s called the ‘seasonally adjusted’ unemployment count is lower than it’s been since 2006.

“600,000 of them are between 18 and 24.”

Paul Nuttall MEP, 4 December 2016

It’s not correct that there are about 600,000 unemployed 18-24 year olds in the UK. It was about that in the summer of 2015, and had been higher before.

At the most recent count, in July-September 2016, there were about 520,000 18-24 year olds unemployed in the UK.

The ONS’s 'seasonal adjustment’ reduces this by about a tenth. The seasonally adjusted unemployment count for 18-24 year olds is 473,000.

“And this goes back to the key issue of immigration actually, because last week we allowed – the figures came out that we allowed this year a city the size of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to come to this country.”

Paul Nuttall MEP, 4 December 2016

Mr Nuttall seems to be referring to what’s called net migration, rather than immigration. That’s the number of people who came into the UK, minus the number who left.

In the year leading up to June 2016, it’s estimated that somewhere between 616,000 and 684,000 people came to live into the UK.

In the same period, somewhere between 294,000 and 336,000 people went to live abroad.

That means that somewhere between 295,000 and 375,000 more people came into the country than left.

So the best estimate for annual net migration is about 335,000 at the moment, give or take 40,000 either way.

That number is actually slightly bigger than the population of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which is about 293,000. (The number of people who immigrated, ignoring emigrants, is over twice the number of people who live in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.)

There’s a fair bit of uncertainty in official migration estimates, and some people have questioned how reliable they are. But it seems safe to say that the current level of net migration is high by historic standards.

“That is insane when you’ve got 1.7 million people unemployed. What we need to do is to get our own people back into work first before we bring people in to do other jobs."

Paul Nuttall MEP, 4 December 2016

The link between immigration and unemployment isn’t simple. Research in the past has suggested that immigration doesn’t significantly affect unemployment overall, although immigration from outside the EU could have a negative impact on the employment of UK-born workers, especially during an economic downturn.

Jobs for immigrants shouldn’t automatically mean fewer jobs for people living here already. According to mainstream economic theory, it’s a mistake to assume that there are a fixed number of jobs in the economy. The idea is that that since immigrants spend money, they create jobs too.

We’ve previously written about the effects of immigration on jobs and wages. It seems to matter what kind of job you have and where you have it.

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