Low-skilled Britons are out of work because they lack skills and motivation, not because they are competing for jobs with migrant workers, the government said on Wednesday.
A study by the Department for Work and Pensions said the arrival of 1m migrants from eastern and central European countries, which joined the European Union in 2004, had not damaged wages or caused higher unemployment among UK-born citizens.
It said the “generally poor labour market outcomes of low-skilled natives” did not reflect a lack of available jobs “but rather issues around basic employability skills, incentives and motivation”.
The Home Office separately also issued a defence of government claims that migrants had made “a positive contribution” to gross domestic product growth. The ministry was responding to a report from the House of Lords economic affairs committee in March that criticised ministers for overstating economic benefits of migration.
The Home Office said on Wednesday that immigration last year alone had added £300 ($589) to Britain’s GDP per capita. It stuck by government estimates that new migration had “added 0.5 per cent per annum to trend output growth between mid-2001 and mid-2006, by increasing the growth of the working-age population, equivalent to £6bn in 2006 – a figure roughly equivalent to the size of the UK agriculture and fishing industry”.
It also rejected calls from the Lords committee for a cap limiting numbers of migrant workers allowed into Britain – a policy supported by the Conservatives.
Labour is introducing an Australian-style points system in a bid to stem the numbers of low-skilled migrant workers coming from non-EU countries. It will instead give preference to entrepreneurs, financial high-flyers and professionals such as scientists and engineers.
Liam Byrne, immigration minister, said: “With powerful controls in place, migration can make Britain richer and that’s what we’re blunt about with the House of Lords. The evidence is actually pretty clear. On average migrants are more likely to be in work, earn more and are therefore likely to be paying more tax, and are a lighter burden on public finances than those born in the UK.”
The DWP report said it had found “no adverse impacts on the young or low-skilled” from migrant workers taking jobs.
Stephen Timms, employment minister, said: “Migrants from eastern Europe have come to the UK to work and have been a benefit to our economy, allowing companies to grow and create jobs. As this research shows, these migrants have not taken jobs away from British workers and have not impacted on wages.”