Youth unemployment link to immigration rise questioned

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Media captionAlp Mehmet, Migrationwatch UK and Matt Cavanagh, Institute for Public Policy Research, debate the study

There is probably a link between rising levels of youth unemployment in Britain and an increase in migration from eastern Europe, a report suggests.

Migrationwatch UK says in the third quarter of last year there were 600,000 more workers in the UK from eight former Soviet bloc countries than in 2004, when they joined the EU.

Over the same period, UK youth unemployment rose by almost 450,000.

The Institute for Public Policy Research says the study is "flawed".

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, youth unemployment in the UK increased from 575,000 in the first quarter of 2004 to 1,016,000 in the third quarter of 2011.

Over the same period, the number of workers from the A8 countries which joined the EU in 2004 - Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - grew by 600,000.

Migrationwatch UK, which campaigns for tighter immigration controls, said it would be "a very remarkable coincidence if there was no link at all" between the figures.

Immigrant demographic

Sir Andrew Green, Migrationwatch UK chairman, said: "Correlation is not, of course, proof of causation but, given the positive employability characteristics and relative youth of migrants from these countries, it is implausible and counter-intuitive to conclude - as the previous government and some economists have done - that A8 migration has had virtually no impact on UK youth unemployment in this period.

"We hear a great deal from employers about the value of immigrant labour, especially from Eastern Europe, but there are also costs some of which have undoubtedly fallen on young British born workers."

Migrants from the A8 countries "have tended to be disproportionately young, well-educated, prepared to work for low wages and imbued with a strong work ethic", Sir Andrew said.

Matt Cavanagh, associate director at the left-leaning IPPR think tank, said the report was "just conjecture, disingenuously presented as research".

According to the IPPR, youth unemployment began rising before the influx of workers from Eastern Europe.

"To try to make our youth unemployment problem look like it is only or mainly an immigration problem - as this report does, by selective use of dates, and a methodologically bogus juxtaposition of aggregate A8 migration with aggregate rise in unemployment - is a profound mistake, and an irresponsible one at that," Mr Cavanagh said.

He added: "There are a number of established statistical methods for testing the robustness of any apparent correlation - but this report doesn't even bother to try."

Restrictions maintained

A recent Office for National Statistics report looked at trends in Eastern European migration and it said that just over 300,000 workers arrived in the UK during the recession. It said there was a "growing body of evidence" that A8 workers were taking jobs that local employers find hard to fill with domestic workers.

"It is not only an issue of migrants accepting the dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs that the UK labour force shuns, but also a matter of the very positive work ethic amongst A8 workers," said the report.

Danny Sriskandarajah, director of the Royal Commonwealth Society educational charity said Migrationwatch UK had not shown any evidence of a causal relationship between immigration and youth unemployment.

"It's great that Migrationwatch acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of recent immigrants are hardworking but a pity that they choose to scapegoat them for the woes caused by the economic downturn," he said.

The Home Office said it was working to reduce net migration.

"Controlled migration can bring benefits to the UK economy, but uncontrolled immigration can put pressure on public services, infrastructure and community relations," a spokesman said.

"That is why we are ensuring graduates and the workforce get the opportunities and skills they need so that they can find work, and why we have maintained restrictions on workers from Romania and Bulgaria, and made it clear we will always introduce transitional controls on new European Union member states to stop unregulated access to British jobs."

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