Cleaning up London

Trends in net migration

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Introduction

Around 60% of cleaners active on our platform are from overseas with around one third of the total from EU countries. Consequently, net migration is critically important to our business and to the cleaning sector as a whole.

Overall net migration

According to latest report from the Office for National Statistics published in August 2019, an estimated 226,000 moved to the UK than left for the year ending March 2019 (612,000 people immigrated and 385,000 people emigrated). This is down 12 per cent from prior period driven by the lowest level of EU migrants in six years.

Since the end of 2016, overall immigration, emigration and net migration have remained broadly stable. However, the overall figures disguise marked differences in EU and non-EU migration patterns.

Rise and fall of EU migration

EU immigration rose to peak in the year ending June 2016 and has continued to fall since then. It is now at its lowest level since 2013. The decrease is mainly due to a fall in immigrants coming to the UK for work, which is now less than half the level it was at its peak.

Despite falling levels of EU immigration, there are still more EU nationals coming to the UK than leaving. However, for Central and Eastern European countries, so called EU8 citizens, an estimated 7,000 fewer arrived than left.

Non-EU immigration has gradually increased since 2013 and remains stable. This is partly driven by an increase in people coming to the UK for study.

Why people move to the UK

For EU citizens, work is the main reason for moving to the UK, whilst study is the main reason for non-EU citizens. Consistent with EU and non-EU trends, immigration for study has been gradually increasing whilst there has been a fall in immigration for work.

Reason for fall in EU net migration

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, which informs debates on international migration and public policy, outlined reasons why the UK is not as attractive to EU migrants as it used to be

  • Brexit-related political uncertainty
  • Falling value of the pound making UK wages less attractive
  • Job opportunities have improved in other EU countries

As an example, in 2004, the British pound bought more than seven Polish Zlotys, now it is less than five.

Impact of lower net migration on business

The net outflow of eastern European nationals is a worrying trend for the cleaning sector as well as for hospitality, construction and healthcare sectors. With continued uncertainty about Brexit and the immigration landscape going forward, combined with record low unemployment, businesses may struggle to find the people they need.

Government policy

David Cameron set a net migration target of less than 100,000 a year which was followed up by Theresa May’s promise to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands" in her 2017 election manifesto.

The government has never come close to hitting these targets.  When draft proposals for a new immigration system were published, targets were replaced with a desire to bring net migration would down to "sustainable levels". The new proposals would end free movement and establish a points-based immigration system. The government said that it wanted EU citizens to stay and introduced the EU Settlement Scheme.

In August 2019, the government announced that it would immediately end free movement on October 31 in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The Oxford Migration Observatory said that immediate enforcement is not possible as employers would not be able to differentiate EU citizens resident for years from those arriving into a new post-Brexit immigration regime.

Impact of immigration on the UK

In 2018, the Migration Advisory Committee, an independent public body that advises the government, produced an in-depth report about the effects of EEA immigration. The BBC summarised the main findings.

  • UK is more European: Between 2004 and 2017, the share of the population who were from an EEA country rose from 1.5% to just over 5%
  • On average, EEA migrants are more highly skilled than natives
  • Large disparity in earnings: EU14 earn more than natives but EU8 and EU2 earn the least in the UK
  • EEA workers pay more in tax than take out in benefits: EEA migrants contribute £2,300 more to the UK public purse than the average UK resident
  • Migration can lead to new jobs, rather than competition for existing ones
  • No evidence that EEA migrants are draining public services
  • Impact on communities and crime is hard to measure

The LSE analysed EU immigration data between 1995 and 2015. Their main findings are summarised below.

  • EU nationals living in the UK tripled from 0.9 million to 3.3 million. The big increase in EU immigration was from EU8 East European countries
  • EU immigrants are more educated, younger, more likely to be in work and less likely to claim benefits than the UK-born. About 44% have some form of higher education compared with only 23% of the UK-born
  • Immigrants consume goods and services. This increased demand helps to create more employment opportunities
  • Areas of the UK with large increases in EU immigration did not suffer greater falls in the jobs and pay of UK-born workers
  • Changes in wages and joblessness for less educated UK-born workers show little correlation with changes in EU immigration
  • EU immigrants pay more in taxes than they take out in welfare and the use of public services
  • Immigrants do not have a negative effect on local services such as crime, education, health, or social housing

Research by the Migration Observatory indicates a very small impact of overall immigration on unemployment rates and average wages of UK-born workers.

Conclusion

EU immigration is good for the UK and declining rates, particularly from eastern Europe is concerning. In our own survey of cleaners, we found that 54% of eastern European respondents said that they would leave the UK in the event of an economic downturn caused by a no-deal Brexit. Over the past 18 months, we have seen higher numbers of eastern European countries going back to their own countries. We want the government to bring certainty and clarity to its immigration policy.

References

1 Office for National Statistics, “Migration Statistics Quarterly Report”, August 2019

2 Financial Times, “EU arrivals at six-year low as UK net migration falls 12%”, August 2019

3 BBC, “UK migration: Rise in net migration from outside EU”, 28 February 2019

4 BBC, “EU migration to UK 'underestimated' by ONS”, 21 August 2019

5 BBC, “EU migration: How has it changed the UK?”, 18 September 2018

6 Financial Times, “The effects of EU migration on Britain in 5 charts”, 18 September 2018

8 LSE, “Brexit and the Impact of Immigration on the UK

9 The Migration Observatory, “The Labour Market Effects of Immigration”, 14 December 2018

10 The Migration Observatory, “Net migration to the UK”, 26 July 2019