Today, the Migration Advisory Committee published a 358-page report titled: “Migrants in low-skilled work: the growth of EU and non-EU labour in low-skilled jobs and its impact on the UK” Well, it’s a huge report, difficult to summarise with – potentially – a lot of interesting findings, here is quick summary of what the report covers (p.279):
The first part (Chapters 2 to 4) is a review of the evidence around migrants in low-skilled work and the evolution of the wider labour market for low – skilled employment over the previous 15 years;
The second part (Chapters 5 and 6) looks at how employers recruit migrant workers and whether there are any issues with the compliance and enforcement of relevant rules and regulations;
The third part (Chapters 7 to 9) focuses on, respectively, the impact of migrants in low-skilled work on the labour market, the wider economy and the social environment.
A second quote to clarify the scope of the ‘recommendations’ at the end of the report (p. 279-292):
We do not make specific policy recommendations as the evidence was not sufficiently developed to enable us to do this. Rather, we make suggestions as to where the focus of policy on the area of migrant low – skilled employment should be
I don’t want to look into the content of the report (as I have not finished reading it) but for now let’s remember some simple facts: The report is about the impact of EU and non-EU immigration on the lUK abour market – in particular relating to low skilled workers – over the past 15 years or so. And there are no recommendations as such. And the first part is pretty much a literature review.
Although there are no recommendations as such it is interesting to skim through the conclusions (Chapter 10, “Areas for policy focus”) to get an idea what sort of issues are part of the ‘conclusions’ of the report:
- Recruitment, and compliance and enforcement
- Labour market outcomes for the native population, especially for younger groups
- Greater recognition of, and support for, the local impacts of migration
- The role of institutions and other public policies
- Flows of migrants into low-skilled work in the future
- The role of evidence in the wider migration debate
So how does the media report such a complex report? Well, let’s listen to a snippet from the BBC:
So why did the BBC decide that the main (!) conclusion of the report is linked to future (!) EU enlargement (it is mentioned in one paragraph)? Why use the the phrase “combined population of 84 Million”? The number includes 75 Million Turkish citizens; and we all know that there are only minimal chances that Turkey will become a EU member state anytime soon. And most importantly, why copy UKIP’s implicit claim that all people who live in those countries would eventually look for jobs in the UK? This is pretty poor journalism for the BBC as it simply does not reflect the depth of the report.
Another problem is the nature of those news items. The recording above is taken from one of those very short (1.30m) news programmes on BBC 6 music that is repeated every hour or so. It is arguably not the most important radio station in the UK but other music channels have exactly the same kind of approach to news formats. And it is probably one of the main news sources for many casual listeners. It’s a perfect example how the news can shape the public discourse – and how bad journalism can fuel euroscepticism. People listen to music stations for much longer than they listen to news programmes – and they have to listen to the same 1m 30 news format for a whole afternoon. So not only is this 40 seconds piece above one of the main news items it is also repeated several times a day – and what do you remember at the end of the day?
Migration = bad, EU enlargement = bad, 84 Million people will come to the UK…
As with many of those complex reports you could also come to the opposite conclusion – and find other interesting angles, here are just a few examples: Migrants had a modest impact impact on the labour market, but there was a positive net contribution of EAA migrants. There is not much evidence to suggest that benefit tourism actually exists. Most low skilled migrants are not from the EU. It was also noted that different areas in the UK are more affected than others – and that some local councils/government departments were not helpful in preparing the report. Contrary to some gossip there was also no indication of discrimination against UK workers – but a worrying trend of general non-compliance and non-enforcement of rules in the low-wage labour market in the UK. In fact the lax rules of the UK labour market are mentioned several times. The report also laments the gap between public perceptions of migration and the reality…
The BBC is one of the few news outlet that explicitly focuses on the future (!) enlargement angle. Not even the Telegraph or the Daily Mail do this as this (rather unrepresentative) overview of UK media coverage shows (also a good illustration of how various papers report migration issues):
Evening Standard: Schools ‘fuel migration by failing less able children’