New research finds UK employers rely on 1.6m employees from the EU

Those from the EU have a higher employment rate and are more likely to work full-time

UK manufacturing industry particularly reliant on EU employees, with 10% of coming from EU countries

New research released today by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think-tank, in partnership with Adecco Group UK & Ireland, has revealed UK employers’ heavy reliance on employees from the EU.

The research comes ahead of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union on 23 June 2016, the outcome of which is likely to determine how UK employers will be able to access EU workers in the future. UK employers currently have access to workers in the European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss citizens, who are permitted to seek work in any other country that is a member of the EU and the EEA. The EEA includes the EU as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Drawing on analysis of the Labour Force Survey (2015), the largest household survey in the UK of employment and unemployment, the research describes the jobs and characteristics of EEA and Swiss employees in the UK and reveals the extent to which UK employers have recruited from the EEA and Switzerland, especially in the private sector, in London and in sectors such as manufacturing.

In this press release, we use the terms “EU workers” and “EU employees” to refer to workers and employees from the EEA and Switzerland (excluding the UK).

Key findings from Working together: European workers in the UK economy show that:

  • There is significant reliance on EU workers by UK employers. There are currently 1.6 million EU workers employed in the public or private sectors, making up 6% of all UK employees.
  • Those from the EU have a higher employment rate (80% compared to 75% amongst UK working age adults), are more likely to work full-time (79% compared to 70%) and are more likely to be employed in the private sector (85% compared to 73%).*
  • Employers in London, the East of England, the East Midlands and the South East are particularly reliant on EU employees, as are those in Northern Ireland. In London, one in eight (13%) of all employees is from the EU.
  • EU employees are particularly prevalent in specific sectors such as manufacturing (10% of employees) and accommodation and food services (14% of employees). o EU employees are on average educated to a higher level than UK-born employees. For example, only 15% of EU employees have left formal education before the age of 17 compared to 44% of UK-born employees. 42% of EU employees were educated beyond the age of 21 compared to 24% of UK-born employees.
  • EU employees represent a higher proportion of workers in elementary occupations – jobs requiring no formal qualifications, and which include jobs such as labourers, cleaners, and shelf-fillers (14%). They represent 13% of process, plant and machine operatives. However, they also represent 5% of all employees amongst occupations such as managers, directors, professionals and associate professionals. These high-level jobs are particularly prevalent in  sectors such as financial services and insurance, information and communication, and professional and technical activities.

Nigel Keohane, co-author and director of research at the Social Market Foundation, commented:

“This new research shows the extent to which UK organisations employ workers from the EU. Our analysis is based on the latest available data and should provide insights as employers think about their future recruitment strategies.”

Adam Hawkins, Managing Director and Board Member at Adecco Group UK & Ireland, commented:

“This research raises serious questions about the potential impact of ‘Brexit’. With 1.6m EU workers currently working in the UK, making up 6% of all UK employees, thousands of businesses could be left in limbo for years following a vote to leave. “Uncertainty is bad for business, particularly those looking to hire and invest in the future. The recruitment industry has seen a significant slowdown in the number of businesses looking to hire permanent staff as we draw nearer to the referendum. Any change to the UK’s relationship with the EU could hinder UK businesses ability to attract the workforce needed for our industries.”