Why migrant workers are crucial to local communities and UK plc

Matt Southall, Acorn’s MD, discusses why migrant workers are crucial to local communities and UK plc.

THERE has been a lot of talk of late about the numbers of migrant workers entering the UK and the effect they may be having on a home-based workforce at a time when unemployment is high.

We’ve seen two reports released in the past week with opposing views. The first from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which said the number of immigrants coming to the UK had little or no impact on the number of employed.

The second came from the Migration Advisory Committee – the UK Government’s immigration advisers – who claimed that an extra 160,000 jobs would have been available to British workers if no migrants from outside the EU had come to the UK.

Let’s be absolutely clear – we’re dealing here with a highly complex issue that all too often is argued about and presented in terms that are far too simplistic.

As far as migrants coming to work from within the EU are concerned, there really is no argument to be had.
They have every right to come to the UK to live and work – just as UK citizens can do in reverse.

It comes as part of the package of being a fully-signed-up member of the European Community and the freedom of labour movement that this membership provides.

We at Acorn have a lot of experience in finding work for EU citizens within the UK – and I think it would be fair to say that the majority have taken work in the lower skills sectors where many indigenous workers were not prepared to “get their hands dirty”.

Over the years, we’ve had vacancies across a range of low wage work environments, for example in abattoirs where the minimum wage is being offered and local people were not taking the jobs.

Without EU workers filling those gaps, businesses would most certainly have folded – seriously affecting the locals already working there in permanent jobs, as well as the local shops, cafes, pubs and other amenities that relied on the wages of those employees being pumped back into the local community.

Not forgetting of course, local businesses working in the supply chain.

As for those people coming from outside the EU, they almost exclusively arrive to work in skilled positions in professions where vacancies struggle to be filled by UK workers because of the serious skills shortages faced in some sectors.

These include, for example, some of the medical professions, research and development, in areas of IT and so on.

These people are absolutely fundamental to the organisations they work for.

In arriving in this country they bring skills and expertise that helps keep their businesses operating to world-class standards, and, importantly, keeping the entire industry competitive on a global level.

In turn, that ensures that additional jobs can be fuelled and created from within the communities they live and work in.
Many of them will start families here and put down roots, pumping additional spending into their local communities.

Others may, in time, launch their own businesses, providing employment for local people and business for local suppliers.
This wider, social support is key to the future of Britain and its economy, contributing to a rich cultural mix in our society – developing values, understanding and a broader experience of the outside world.

It is certainly true that here in Wales, as well as across the rest of the UK, that unemployment is the biggest issue facing us all, including the particularly worrying issue of rising youth unemployment that predated the financial crisis.
But its causes are far too complex to be reduced to blaming immigration, just as the effects of immigration on the labour market are too complex to be reduced to endlessly repeated headlines about ‘foreigners taking all the jobs’.

On a macro level, the benefits for UK plc in continuing to supplement our own workforce with migrant workers will undoubtedly far outweigh any potential negatives.

Matt Southall is managing director of Acorn Recruitment.