Eastern European workers vote with their feet

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.

Figure 19_ Number of vacancies in the UK, seasonally adjusted (1)

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.

Figure 12_ UK unemployment rates (aged 16 years and over), seasonally adjusted


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.








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