Even Emily Thornberry Has Started Claiming EU Migrants Undercut Wages

It's still wrong.
PAUL ELLIS via Getty Images

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry has claimed that migrants undercut wages - but there is little evidence this is true.

She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday that British employers “take advantage of sucking people in from other countries and undercutting wages and undercutting conditions”.

“Do I think that at the moment too many people come into this country? Yes I do”, she said.

Since the vote to leave the European Union, even those on Labour’s left - among them Jeremy Corbyn and Clive Lewis as well as Thornberry - have used this argument in efforts to appeal to Brexit voters.

But research into the effect of European immigration on wages does not back it up.

The most recent study - from a series marking the run-up to Brexit published by the London School of Economics - is also the most detailed, and finds that areas of Britain with the largest influx of EU workers have not suffered sharper pay-falls than others.

The report looked at change in local wages against local changes in the number of EU immigrants, and saw no correlation between the two:


Neither did it find even that low skilled workers suffered at the hands of EU migrants. This graph plots changes in local wages against changes in the proportion of EU migrants, and shows no link:


The study also found no evidence EU immigration impacts on job opportunities - and further that the net effect of EU migrants was actually to raise the level of demand in the British economy and therefore create opportunities for UK-born workers.

The authors remarked that while workers in many areas of the country have seen wages suffer, the cause could be traced to the 2008 recession, rather than migrants.

Jonathan Wadsworth, who co-authored the report, said: “The bottom line, which may surprise many people, is that EU immigration has not harmed the pay, jobs or public services enjoyed by Britons.

“In fact, for the most part it has likely made us better off. So far from EU immigration being a necessary evil that we pay to get access to the greater trade and foreign investment generated by the EU single market, immigration is at worse neutral and at best, another economic benefit.”

And this tallies with the bulk of evidence on the subject - even that produced by the Government itself.

A study from the Bank of England, published in December, found immigration had a “very small” impact on wages - amounting to a 1% reduction in wages over a period of 8 years (about a penny an hour).

And a study commissioned by the Home Office in 2014 concluded that there was little evidence “that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives from the labour market in periods when the economy is strong”.

Further, studies into the net effect of migration on Britain’s economy usually work in migrants favour.

A report by the OECD found the net fiscal impact of migration on Britain in 2007-09 was negligible. The he Office of Budget Responsibility has predicted that migration works to reduce government debt.

And a University College London study found the net contribution of European migrants between 1995 and 2011 was than £4bn (compared to an overall negative contribution of £591bn by native Brits).

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