Search Class

Credit: Rohin Francis

Brexit Uncertainity Already Hurting Workers and Public Services

Today’s employment statistics may seem to represent a well-needed break from Brexit but, on closer inspection, the impact of ongoing uncertainty is clear to see.

While employment and unemployment remain at near record highs, real pay growth remains sluggish. Average weekly earnings are up by 1 percent excluding bonuses compared to this time last year. To put this into perspective, this is around half the average increase workers experienced in the years between 1994 and 2007.

Amid the chaos surrounding the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU, very little attention seems to have been paid to the 3.6 million EU citizens that currently live in the UK. Today’s statistics show that the number of EU27 workers has decreased by over 100,000 since this time last year. Net migration from the EU turned negative in the second quarter of 2018 for the first time since 2009.

CLASS talked to EU national Toni Petkova, and Maike Bohn of the campaign group the3million about how the uncertainty of Brexit is impacting on them. Toni was turned down for leave to remain in Britain because she stopped working to become a full time carer.

The economic arguments for migration have been well made. Migrants are net contributors to UK society (they pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits) and certain sectors of the economy are overwhelmingly dependent on EU workers. A recent report from the Migration Advisory Committee showed that 25 percent of workers in food and drink manufacturing emanate from the EEA while the figure is around 5 percent for the social care and health industries.

The combination of a hostile environment towards immigrants and ongoing uncertainty about the rights of EU workers post-Brexit is contributing to significant shortfalls in the labour market. For instance, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research found that 12 months on from the referendum, the number of EU workers joining the NHS fell by 17.6 percent while the number who left the service rose by 15.3 percent.

Behind each of these statistics lies the lived experience of 900 days of uncertainty and doubt since the referendum vote. As Maike Bohn of The 3 Million outlines in the video above, there are huge concerns about the need for all EU citizens to apply to be able to work in the UK. Despite promises made to the contrary, this ‘Settled Status’ process does not guarantee the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK (as explained here).

While Theresa May has celebrated the end of freedom of movement baked into her Brexit deal, the above goes to show that there is in fact very little to celebrate in a move that makes us economically, socially and culturally poorer.

Recent calls for a ‘globalisation fund’ in which the government would use the billions of pounds paid by EU workers in tax to regenerate ‘left-behind’ communities are ill justified. There is clearly a very big need for investment in many areas of the UK but linking this decline to levels of migration risks further fuelling anti-immigrant sentiment.

As the vote on the Brexit deal has now been kicked further down the road, genuinely ring-fencing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU needs to become an immediate priority. First and foremost, this unnecessary uncertainty has very tangible and detrimental impacts on the lives of millions of people up and down the country. If that is not enough, continued uncertainty will continue to hurt our public services and the economy.

Work areas: Economy and Industry.