The countdown to Brexit has seen a 15% fall in the number of Eastern European workers residing in the UK – in all 154,000 fewer than for July to September 2017 and 173,000 fewer than the record high of 1.05 million for July to September 2016. This decline comes at a time when vacancies, after rising steadily, now stand at 845,000, (44,000 more than a year ago) and the highest since comparable records began.
As home born employment continues to rise, the proportion of those economically inactivity declines and unemployment remains at a historically low-levels, Eastern European migration has complemented, rather than undermined UK labour.
As a result, employers have become increasingly worried about ‘skills shortages’, while some educationalists have argued for better vocational education to fill a ‘Brexit gap’. Both of these issues, which have been discussed before need a proper perspective.
But Eastern European labour has disproportionately been employed in ‘low skill, low pay’ sectors like hospitality, transport and retail. Constituting a ‘reserve army of labour’
three quarters would have been ineligible to come and work in Britain if a future government acted on ‘skills test’ recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
Thus, it is the prospect of a sudden cut-off of EU low-skilled migration that is potentially “disastrous” for UK firms and diverting resources into vocational training programmes would provide limited returns.