British economy depends on immigrant labour

Gordon Brown’s pledge of “British jobs for British workers” and the Tories’ plan for tougher border controls are nothing but political fantasy, according to a new book that reveals the truth about jobs and immigration in London.

Published on:

Global Cities at Work: New migrant divisions of labour (Pluto Press, 2010), co-authored by geographers at Queen Mary, University of London, is launched on Monday 22 March at the College.*

The book exposes the capital’s reliance on migrants to clean offices and hotels, care for elders and change the sheets on hospital beds. Using official statistics, it suggests more than 60 per cent of such workers are now foreign-born.

This trend, claims the book, is linked to a growth in aggressively-priced subcontracting and outsourcing, coupled with the weakening of trade unions, and labour market deregulation.

These factors ensure many low paid jobs are devalued to the point that ‘natives’ won’t do them. As co-author Professor Jane Wills points out: “Going to work is expensive in terms of transport, clothing and childcare. Taking a low-paid job in London often means losing your benefit entitlement, and earning wages that are too low to support family life.”

“In contrast, new immigrants - many of whom have no access to benefits - have little choice but to work. They shore up the low-waged economy, especially in London – paying taxes that contribute to British society.”

Of over 800 foreign-born workers in London, interviewed for the book, just seven per cent were paid at or above the living wage (currently £7.60 an hour). Most had no access to occupational sick pay, compassionate leave, enhanced overtime pay or holiday leave.

“Sending the immigrants home would be “economic suicide”, while promising ‘British jobs for British workers’ obviously demands the higher labour standards necessary to make British jobs pay,” warns Professor Wills.

The book launch will feature commentary from Mark Abani, chair of the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK (CANUK), who can attest to the extraordinary – but neglected – role of African migrants in London’s success.

Marzena Cichon, an organizer with London Citizens’ living wage campaign, will also speak about the role of migrants – particularly those from her native Poland – who now keep the city’s hospitality industry alive.

Rounding off the event is Don Flynn, from the Migrants’ Rights Network, who will consider the London immigration picture compared to the wider UK and the rest of the world.

* Global Cities at Work, based on research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), was co-written by Professor Jane Wills, Dr Kavita Datta, Dr Yara Evans, Dr Joanna Herbert, Professor Jon May and Dr Cathy McIlwaine all academics in the Department of Geography at Queen Mary.

Event: Global Cities at Work – Book Launch

Time: 7–9pm

Venue: The Octagon, Queens' Building, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, E1 4NS

To reserve a place, please email: