Welfare system stopping residents from taking up work
16th March 2009: Migrants are not the real barrier keeping longterm British workless out of the labour market, a new report shows.
According to a study by the Centre for Cities, the real barriers are the workings of the welfare system (the ‘benefits trap’), job quality (hard-to-fill vacancies), and a ‘soft’ skills deficit amongst the local workforce (in contrast to migrant workers ‘work ethic’).
The report looked at the impact of migration from new European Union countries on job markets in Bristol and Hull -from their accession in 2004 to today’s recession.
Despite the economic crisis, no mass exodus of migrant workers has been noted so far in Hull and Bristol. In Bristol, more A8 migrants appear to be settling longer term into ready established communities. In fact 18% of A8 migrants arriving in the city bring their children, partners or both, compared to 14% nationally and 7% in Hull.
A8 migration refers to migration from Europe’s A8 countries, which joined the European Union in May 2004. The A8 countries are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2007 but are subject to stricter labour market conditions.
The report also reveals that over one third are uncertain about the length of their stay when they arrive, suggesting a ‘wait and see’ approach to their return home.
Migrant workers are employed across Bristol’s jobs market in a wide range of sectors including hospitality (22%), manufacturing (7%), construction (5%), retail (6%), health (6%) and transport (6%).
The report also shows that there is no evidence of A8 migrants ‘taking’ British jobs especially in cities like Hull, where A8 migrants mostly work in warehouses or processing plants, as packers, mechanics or on production lines for example (76%).
Migrant workers are channelled into these jobs through migrant recruitment agencies. Two parallel job markets have emerged within the city: one dominated by long-term residents, and a second by migrants. Unless these job markets are brought together, the city’s economy will be held back over the long term.
However in recession, cities like Bristol, where migrants work across a broad range of sectors, are likely to see more direct competition for jobs between A8 migrants and the local workforce.
The report suggests that Bristol City Council and its partners will need to focus hard on keeping Bristol’s businesses and jobs to help both long-term and new residents stay in work.
Likewise many of the job opportunities which are currently taken up by migrants in cities like Hull could see interest from long-term city residents. Hull and East Riding local authorities, alongside Jobcentre Plus will need to work closely with recruitment agencies and address longer-run worklessness barriers – to open up job opportunities to all, the report suggests.
Dermot Finch, Director of the Centre for Cities, said: "Over the past five years, the UK economy has benefited hugely from A8 migration. Workers from Eastern Europe have filled skills shortages and helped businesses grow. But the recession is now starting to change the dynamic between A8 migrants and local labour markets.
"In cities like Hull and Bristol, unemployment is rising and vacancies are falling – but we are not yet seeing a mass exodus of migrant workers. A8 migrants and the recently unemployed are now competing for fewer jobs, and previously "hard-to-fill" jobs are now in demand.
"A8 migrants are not all going home. They have a valuable role to play in the UK economy. We need to do more to integrate those that want to stay here, so they can help drive the UK from recession to recovery."