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"Eastern European immigration 'has hit low-paid Britons'

Tangled up in Blue

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Influx of 1.5m eastern Europeans means UK's lowest-paid workers are earning less now, report says

Jamie Doward, Home Affairs Editor The Observer, Sunday 17 January 2010 Article history
An "unprecedented" influx of some 1.5 million eastern European workers into the UK over the past six years is likely to have had a negative impact on the wages of the lowest-paid British workers, according to a major report ordered by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

While the report, written by the Migration Policy Institute, claims the contribution of the new migrants to the UK's economy is "probably small but positive", it concludes that there is evidence that "the recent migration may have reduced wages slightly at the *bottom end of the labour market, especially for certain groups of vulnerable workers". It also claims there is a risk that the recent influx "could contribute to a 'low-skill equilibrium' in some economically depressed local areas".

The report estimates that about half of the 1.5 million eastern European workers who have come to the UK since it opened its borders to an expanded EU in 2004 have returned home, while most of the remainder have found themselves in unskilled occupations. The report claims that eastern European workers now constitute about half of all labour immigration to the UK.

While the number of eastern European workers entering the UK has been curtailed by the recession, experts believe it is likely this new form of economic immigration will have an enduring impact on the UK's jobs market.

About 95% of male eastern European migrants and 80% of females find work upon entering the UK and the report found evidence that during the recession their unemployment rates have remained significantly below that of British-born workers, often because they were paid considerably less and were seen as good employees willing to work hard. But this has led to concerns that they are allowing themselves to be exploited – with consequences for the job prospects and working conditions of UK-born workers as well.

"This report highlights the need to provide help for the most vulnerable, with evidence that many eastern European workers may be in precarious employment circumstances and suffering exploitation in some industries," said Andrea Murray, acting group director of strategy at the EHRC.

The report also acknowledges the use of eastern European labour to fill unskilled jobs may result in "a vicious circle in which employers fail to invest in increasing the skills in their workforce". It suggests if the trend continues it "runs the risk of perpetuating the existence of substantial numbers of temporary jobs with unsociable hours that are increasingly only attractive to migrant workers".

The report, which draws on independent research, official statistics, national insurance figures and labour force surveys, provides one of the most authoritative assessments of eastern European migration patterns in and out of the UK and is likely to be studied closely by politicians as the debate about immigration heats up in the weeks leading up to the general election
 
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