Theresa May makes speech contradicting her own research

A 2014 review found little evidence that migration displaces UK workers


Theresa May told the Tory party conference this morning that continuing high levels of migration to the UK will make it ‘impossible to build a cohesive society’.

The home secretary’s tough speech, in which she attacked the ‘open borders liberal left’ and said it was not possible to manage all consequences of immigration, will appeal to the right of the party and probably win back some UKIP defectors.

But it was one of the most scaremongering accounts of immigration we’ve heard from the Tories in a while; perhaps May calculated that enough time had passed since Cameron’s ungenerous offer to Syrian refugees to avoid too much ‘nasty party’ talk.

But is any of what she said actually true?

Attempting to persuade British workers that immigrants are after their jobs, May said:

“We know that for people in low-paid jobs, wages are forced down even further while some people are forced out of work altogether.”

Last year, the government undertook its own review of the impacts of migration on native employment. It found that:

Overall, our assessment is that there is relatively little evidence that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives from the labour market in periods when the economy has been strong.

Osborne boasts almost daily about the strength of the economy on his watch. So is Theresa May basing her assertion on a hypothetical weak economy – perhaps one created by the ‘open-borders liberal left’? If so, those who listened to her speech will be understandably confused.

The review also found that:

To date there has been little evidence in the literature of a statistically significant impact from EU migration on native employment outcomes, although significant EU migration is still a relatively recent phenomenon and this does not imply that impacts do not occur in some circumstances.

The evidence also suggests that where there has been a displacement effect from a particular cohort of migrants, this dissipates over time – that is, any displacement impacts from one set of new arrivals gradually decline as the labour market adjusts, as predicted by economic theory.

The document discusses how the enlargement of the European Union in 2004 led to an increase in migrants from the European Economic Area (EEA). Labour market outcomes continued to improve for the native born UK population until 2005 when they remained steady (‘at a relatively high level’) until the recession in 2008.

Because of the recession, labour market outcomes got worse for both UK natives and migrants throughout 2009 and 2010. However, May’s officials concluded, ’employment levels for UK nationals have been rising more than those of foreign nationals over the period 2012/13′.

Take a look at the graph below, also created by Theresa May’s team, for an overview of how migration has affected native employment rates:


If Theresa May based her confident assertion today on some other research, it would be helpful to share it. Otherwise she is cynically playing on people’s unemployment fears without any evidence to back up her claims. And the trouble is, it might work.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward

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