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Sun overstates foreign worker stats

by Jack Schickler | 19.05.2016

“Brits just not fair: 4 in 5 British jobs went to foreign nationals last year”, reads a Sun headline today, reporting new labour market data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The Sun quotes Brexit campaigner Iain Duncan Smith saying migration means low-paid Brits “suffer downward pressure on their wages”.

The headline is wrong and should be corrected, while Duncan Smith’s concerns are misplaced.

The Sun get their 4 in 5 figure by dividing the year-on-year rise in foreign-born workers – 330,000 in the 1st quarter of 2016 – by the annual rise in UK employment – 412,000 in the same quarter. But someone can be born abroad without being a foreign national – Boris Johnson, born in New York, being a good example. The ONS release states “non-UK nationals working in the UK increased by 229,000”, which constitutes 56% of the total rise in employment, not 80%.

So did 56% of the “British jobs” created last year go to foreign nationals? No. The 412,000 new jobs number is a net one, setting jobs lost against new ones created. Most of those who take up a new post have just left another. The ONS figures show that as a proportion of the total 31.58 million people in work in the UK, non-UK nationals represented 3.34 million, or 10.6%.

Although more recent data is not available, Jonathan Wadsworth of London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance put the proportion of new hires filled by non-UK born workers in 2014 to be about 17.5% – but even this may include UK nationals born abroad.

The independent press watchdog IPSO has previously ruled against newspapers for misrepresenting employment figures – in one recent case the Express had to correct a headline which had stated: “three out of four British jobs go to EU MIGRANTS”. That claim bears a striking resemblance to today’s headline in the Sun.

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As for Iain Duncan Smith’s concern, Jonathan Portes of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research has recently looked at Bank of England figures. He finds no evidence that immigration is “the main or even a moderately important driver of low pay” for the unskilled and semi-skilled, having estimated its impact on wages as equivalent to a reduced pay rise of just around a penny an hour.

Jobs occupied by migrants are not jobs that would otherwise be filled by Brits if we left the EU – to believe that is to commit an error which economists call the “lump of labour fallacy”. If our economy is healthy, jobs are created for both migrants and Brits. If our economy took a hit – as economists predict is likely after a Brexit – the employment situation would worsen.

The Sun declined to comment.

Edited by Geert Linnebank