Brown at his worst. Of all the poisonous episodes in Gordon Brown’s premiership, his incitement to “British jobs for British workers” was among the worst. Not only was it statist, telling companies whom they should hire, but it also overlooked a foundational truth of our economy – that a good worker is a good worker, wherever they come from. Yet Brown’s clumsy words did speak to a genuine concern. Of the increase in employment levels under Labour, 72 per cent was accounted for by foreign workers. Did we need to import labour, whilst British people languished on benefits, to get by?
The Coalition has changed that.The graph at the top of this post contains two trends to be proud of. The number of foreign-born workers in our economy has increased since the start of this Government, and so too has the number of UK-born workers. But yesterday’s employment figures confirmed a new balance between these trends. Of the jobs that have been created since the start of this Government, roughly 52 per cent are now accounted for by UK-born workers. It’s the second quarter in a row where the rise in UK-born workers has outstripped the rise in foreign-born workers.
No, really, it has… That graph shows the change in employment levels since the second quarter of 2010, when the Coalition was born. But its trends become even starker if you start them later. For instance, the number of UK-born workers has risen by just over a million since the second quarter of 2011, compared to 577,000 for foreign-born workers. That’s a proportion of 63 per cent.
…definitely. There’s another way of slicing the statistics: by nationality, rather than by birthplace. I actually prefer this method, although it’s less usual, as it doesn’t force workers such as the current Mayor of London into the “foreign” column. And what does it show? That the number of UK nationals in work has increased by 1.3 million since the start of this Government, compared to just over half a million for non-UK nationals. That’s a proportion of 72 per cent.
The great unknowables. The whats of our labour market are easier to explain than the whys. It could be that these numbers are linked to those I mentioned in my To The Point post on productivity: perhaps companies are hiring British workers because those same British workers are putting up with shorter hours or worse pay than they did previously. Or perhaps it’s to do with the Coalition’s policies, such as the cap on immigration or the welfare reforms. Either way, the only sure way to keep British people in work is to train them for the task. Brown always did have it the wrong way round: we should be making British workers skilled enough to hold down British jobs.