Press Story

New research by IPPR, the progressive policy think tank, sets out the scale of the challenge potentially posed by Brexit to some areas of the economy because of the current reliance on lower-skilled migration from the EU.

Senior figures in the Vote Leave campaign suggested only skilled migration should be allowed post-Brexit. But Brexit Secretary David Davis yesterday recognised that some industries depend on migrant labour and that a new migration policy will need to address their needs. IPPR’s analysis sheds new light on these at-risk industries.

Even if the rights of EU nationals already in the UK are guaranteed, workforce turnover could mean labour shortages quickly become apparent in some sectors. Any shortages could push up the prices of every day goods and services.

IPPR are arguing that a modern industrial strategy can support improved productivity and better use of technology in some sectors. This could help to reduce reliance on lower skilled migration and low-pay jobs, but this will not be possible immediately and in every sector. Therefore, any new system which reduced employers’ access to EU labour would need to allow considerable time for transition and maintain a long-term route for workers in lower-skilled jobs in certain sectors.

The table below based on IPPR analysis shows the occupations most reliant on EU nationals:


Share of EU nationals (%)

Packers, bottlers, canners and fillers


Food, drink and tobacco process operatives


Weighers, graders and sorters


Vehicle valeters and cleaners


Cleaning and housekeeping managers and supervisors


Launderers, dry cleaners and pressers


Industrial cleaning process occupations


Fork-lift truck drivers


Other elementary services occupations not elsewhere classified


Routine inspectors and testers


The table below shows the sectors most reliant on lower-skilled EU nationals:


Share of workers who are EU nationals in lower-skilled occupations(%)

Manufacture of food products


Domestic personnel




Warehousing & support activities for transportation


Services to buildings and landscape activities


Manufacture of beverages


Manufacture of other non-metallic mineral products


Manufacture of wearing apparel


Postal and courier activities


Wholesale trade, except of motor vehicles and motor cycles


IPPR analysis of ONS Labour Force Survey statistics, pooled rounds 2015 Q3 to 2016 Q2. Sectors with grossed estimates of EU nationals fewer than 5000 have been excluded due to low sample size. EU migrants are defined by nationality rather than country of birth. Nationals from other free movement countries (Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland) are also included within the sample. Lower-skilled is defined by SOC major groups 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Only working age people are included in the analysis.

Marley Morris, Senior Research Fellow said:

“It is highly likely that Britain’s immigration policy will change post-Brexit.

“IPPR research shows that some sectors in the UK economy are now highly reliant on EU nationals in lower-skilled jobs.

“Britain’s low unemployment and inactivity rate and the geographical spread of jobseekers means it is difficult to see British workers easily taking up these roles.

“Government needs to work with industry to develop a much clearer plan to move towards a high-pay, high-productivity economy. Over time this should reduce the need for this kind of lower skilled and often very low paid labour.

“But it will also need to engage in an honest conversation with the public about how much lower skilled migration will still be needed after Brexit.

“With Article 50 being triggered this should be an urgent priority in order to inform negotiations on future migration policy.”

The distribution of low-skill roles like these is also variable across the country and some regions will be affected to a much greater degree than others. This means future industrial strategy and immigration policy will need to have a strong regional dimension to address these challenges.



IPPR experts are available for comment on the triggering of Article 50. Contact:

Kieren Walters 07921 403651

Rebecca Malone 07585 772633

Editor’s Notes:

  1. A Vote Leave declaration signed by senior politicians said: “The automatic right of all EU citizens to come to live and work in the UK will end, as will EU control over vital aspects of our social security system… Those seeking entry for work or study should be admitted on the basis of their skills without discrimination on the ground of nationality. To gain the right to work, economic migrants will have to be suitable for the job in question.” See:
  2. IPPR aims to influence policy in the present and reinvent progressive politics in the future, and is dedicated to the better country that Britain can be through progressive policy and politics. With nearly 60 staff across four offices throughout the UK, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.

    Our independent research is wide ranging, it covers the economy, work, skills, transport, democracy, the environment, education, energy, migration and healthcare among many other areas.