The presence of Eastern European workers has caused the lowest-paid people in the UK to be paid even less, research has found.
A report by the Migration Policy Institute, commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) revealed that the 1.5 million Eastern European migrants who came to the UK in the past six years have made a “small but positive” contribution to the economy, but “the recent migration may have reduced wages slightly at the bottom end of the labour market, especially for certain groups of vulnerable workers”.
The report also said there was “a risk that [recent migration] could contribute to a ‘low-skill equilibrium’ in some economically depressed local areas”.
But it estimated that about half of the migrant workers who have come to the UK since it opened its borders to an expanded EU in 2004 have returned home, while most of the remainder are in unskilled occupations.
Only 700,000 Eastern Europeans remain, with arrrivals falling by more than 60% in the past three years.
During the recession unemployment rates for Eastern European migrant workers remained significantly below those for British-born workers, often because they were paid less, but were seen as hard-working, the report said.
But the EHRC has warned that the UK is not making the most of migrants’ skills, as many were taking low-skilled jobs.
Andrea Murray, acting group director of strategy at the EHRC, said: “Eastern European workers have provided a boost to Britain’s economy, although more than half of them have now returned home.
“Despite being over-educated for many roles, they have been willing to take on jobs that many other workers do not wish to do.
“While low-skilled, low-paid jobs are important to the British economy, the education level of many of these migrants highlights that Britain may not be making the most of the talents they offer.”
The report also warned that the use of Eastern European workers to fill unskilled jobs could result in “a vicious circle in which employers fail to invest in increasing the skills in their workforce”.
It suggested that if this situation was allowed to continue the UK would “run the risk of perpetuating the existence of substantial numbers of temporary jobs with unsociable hours that are increasingly only attractive to migrant workers”.