Immigration adds to UK numeracy problems, says study

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Immigration figures are contributing to numeracy skill problems in the UK, according to a new study by Dr John Jerrim from the UCL Institute of Education.

His research suggests that 684,000 highly numerate individuals who left the UK between 1964 and 2011 were replaced by an almost equal number of very numerate immigrants, but that a further 2.4 million individuals with low numeracy skills also joined the UK population during this time.

Dr Jerrim said:

“Although immigration from South Asia has added many highly numerate people to our labour force, immigration from the same region and Africa has added six times more people with low numeracy skills to the UK than those with high numeracy skills.

“Immigrants account for one in four of the 9.6 million working age adults living in the United Kingdom with low level numeracy skills. Immigration has therefore had its biggest impact upon the bottom end of the numeracy skill distribution; it has led to a significant increase in the supply of low skilled workers.”

Each year more than 300,000 people leave the UK to begin a new life overseas. In their place around 450,000 immigrants travel across our borders to seek new opportunities.

The research examined the qualifications and numeracy skills of emigrants who left the UK between 1964 and 2011, and compared them with those of immigrants and UK-born people who have remained in this country (UK ‘stayers’).

Dr Jerrim analysed data on 24 countries gathered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Its 2011 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies survey included a test designed to measure functional skills in numeracy.

Immigrants to the UK scored, on average, only 234 points in this test, compared to the 268 points achieved by emigrants and 267 by UK-born ‘stayers’.

However, 37 percent of immigrants possessed a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 21 percent of UK ‘stayers’.

Dr Jerrim’s analysis of the survey data also reveals that UK emigrants are earning more money overseas and reporting better health than UK ‘stayers’. But they are working considerably longer hours than their counterparts in this country.

His research, which is thought to be the first large-scale analysis of its kind, found that average earnings for UK emigrants to North America and Australia in 2011 were £2589 per month, compared to £2071 for ‘stayers’.

The work-life balance appears to be better in this country. UK-born male ‘stayers’ in full-time jobs work an average of 44 hours per week, compared to the 55 hours of emigrants to the United States and Canada.

Nevertheless, almost nine in ten (86%) emigrants to North America said they were in very good or excellent health, compared to 61 percent of UK-born citizens who have remained in this country.

Dr Jerrim’s study focused on 7,628 UK ‘stayers’, 843 immigrants into the UK and 1,324 emigrants, aged 16-65.

The average age of emigrants was 42, compared to 41 for UK-born ‘stayers’ and 37 for immigrants.

Dr Jerrim concludes:

“Little was previously known about the employment, earnings or quality of life of UK emigrants compared to the individuals who remain in this country. Overall, although there are some important differences in regards to career paths and wages, these are perhaps not as pronounced as one might expect.

“It seems that, although many individuals move in search of a better life abroad, this may not always be achieved.”

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