Exploding myths – the link between youth unemployment and immigration

This week’s report by the Commission on Youth Unemployment revealed some extremely worrying stuff about youth unemployment in the UK –   over 1 in 5 of all young people are neither in training, education or employment (NEET), and youth unemployment is at its highest for two decades. The Commision’s report, chaired by David Miliband, received considerable coverage. Given however its findings about the links between immigration and youth unemployment did not, we thought we’d highlight them for you.

Youth Unemployment in the UK

The report starts off by highlighting that there has been an increase  in youth unemployment since 2004. Currently the problem stems from  low labour market demand. However, there is also a longer term structural problem. It turns out that youth unemployment levels were pretty high during the UK’s decade of growth.

The report identifies poor qualifications, lack of soft employability skills, lack of understanding about the labour market, limited access to work experience, and ultimately poor labour market transition arrangements  as important factors accounting for this problem.

Immigration and youth unemployment?

At page 56, the report concludes

There are some common myths about the labour market that need busting…immigration does not appear to lead to youth unemployment. Academic research finds either no evidence that immigration results in high youth unemployment, or evidence that it causes a rise which could only explain a fraction of the rise in NEET levels in the UK between 2004-2008, whilst our examination of the rise in NEET levels after 2004 could find no positive link with immigration (indeed the rise in NEET levels was highest in some of the regions least affected by immigration)…

These conclusions are based on research on behalf of the Commission undertaken by Bristol University. In a nutshell that research notes that the accession of the A8 in 2004 meant that the proportion of A8 migrants of the total working age  population rose by approximately 2 percentage points. It  goes on to explain that there are potentially two potential ways A8 immigration could affect the NEET rate. Firstly, A8 born 16-24 year olds could move to the UK and become NEET themselves, and secondly they could affect matters through direct competition for jobs between natives and A8 born workers.


In relation to the former, the research shows that  the NEET rate amongst A8 nationals is lower that the population average, and as such could only account for 3-5% of the overall rise. Indeed it notes that even if all A8 NEETS were unemployed, this would only account for less than half of the rise.

Taking our jobs?

In relation to direct competition with the native population, the report (page 118) points out that ‘there is a quantity of literature which finds immigration to have very limited employment effects on the native population as a whole’.  It identifes some of this and then charts the growth rate in A8 nationals between 2002-2010 against the growth rate in the NEET population for the same period, ‘showing a relationship that is insignificantly different to zero’.

If not immigration, then what?

It concludes by making  various recommendations to tackle the NEET problem. These include:

  • Ensuring more job opportunities are available to young people in 2012: by frontloading the Government’s ‘Youth Contract’ initiative and doubling the number of job subsidies available in 2012
  • ‘First step’ – a part-time job guarantee for young people who have been on the work programme for a year without finding a job.
  • Targeting young people earlier: A new national programme, Job Ready, to work with teenagers to prevent them becoming NEET in the first place. Providing localised eduation-to-career support for the non-university bound who are fast becoming the forgotten 50%.
  • Youth Employment Zones: starting in the youth unemployment hotspots, local organisations should come together and pool resources to get young people into work, with Whitehall offering a turbo-boost in the form of extra freedom and flexibility in return for results.
  • A new mentoring scheme for young people, by young people: where under-25s who have been in work for a year mentor others on their path to employment.

In the light of recent reports into the link (or not) between unemployment and immigration, we welcome this informed and balanced look at the issue. It is a shame that this report was not taken in the same context as the others by much of the mainstream media, but unsurprising given the fact that it does indeed explode some myths which suit some political agendas.

About jcwi

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is a key campaigning voice in the field of immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy. It is completely independent from government funding, remaining entirely free from government influence. View all posts by jcwi

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