To help you get started with the competition, we have put together a short overview of public and media perceptions of immigration and how they compare with the findings of data-driven economic research. Click the drop-down link below to read the overview and get a feel for the topic.

In recent years, opinion polls have found that the UK public is concerned about the impact immigration has on workers and the economy more broadly. For example, 62% of those interviewed in a 2011 survey agreed with the statement ‘immigrants bring down the wages of British citizens’ (Duffy and Frere-Smith, 2014: p.39), while a 2013 poll found that 61% of Britons thought immigrants were ‘taking the jobs and driving down [the] wage rates of British-born workers seeking low paid jobs’ (Duffy and Frere-Smith, 2014: p.39). 

The newspaper someone reads has been found to be the best predictor of their attitude to immigration (Duffy and Rowden, 2005: p.3), suggesting that the UK media plays a key role in shaping attitudes. In nearly half of all articles written between 2006 and 2015 about EU or illegal immigration, the authors argued that immigration should be controlled to ‘deliver the best possible economic, social and welfare conditions for citizens’, but often did not bring in sources to support their points (Migration Observatory, 2016).

These concerns have driven strong opposition to immigration and, in turn, led to large shifts in the political landscape. These include the Conservative Party’s pledge to reduce migration to the tens-of-thousands; the rise of the UK Independence Party; and the decision to leave the European Union – the chance for the UK to ‘regain control over immigration and its borders’ was the second most cited reason for voting “Leave” (Lord Ashcroft polls, 2016).

However, economic research has consistently found that immigration does not have a negative impact on workers or the economy; instead, immigration has little or no impact on the employment or average wage of UK-born workers. Although some research has suggested there are small distributional wage effects – with the pay of the lowest-wage workers’ falling while the pay of the highest-wage workers has risen – these effects are incredibly small.

In recent years, researchers have set out to understand why immigration has such a small impact on wages and employment. Some of the potential adjustments that have been investigated include whether firms change the way they produce goods and services, to whether immigrants improve productivity or lead the UK-born to change occupations. Slowly but surely, the full labour market impact of immigration is being understood.

Resource list

Below we have provided a range of resources to help you with your analysis and campaign. You can access them by clicking on the drop-down sections below.

There are plenty to choose from, so you may wish to focus on a few resources in detail, rather than trying to read everything! You’re of course welcome to do your own research, beyond our suggestions.


Public and media perceptions

  • Duffy and Rowden (2005): The third page highlights the role that UK newspapers play in shaping immigration attitudes.
  • Duffy and Frere-Smith (2014): Pages 37 to 39 give a number of examples of polls which show how immigration is perceived to have a negative impact on the labour market and jobs.
  • Migration Observatory (2020): This briefing has a more detailed and up-to-date look at public attitudes to immigration. Take a look at the key points and the graphs.

With each of these articles, think about how the authors back up their argument and the language that they use.

  • Dawar (The Daily Express): This article argues that immigrants have stopped UK-born individuals from finding jobs.
  • Drury and Slack (The Daily Mail): Written in response to the release of an academic paper by Nickell and Saleheen (2015), this article looks at how immigration impacts wages.
  • Hawkes (The Sun): Following the release of employment figures, this article links increased employment of immigrant workers to low wages.
  • Hawkes (The Sun): A response to a government report which analysed the labour market impact of immigration.
  • Pollard (The Daily Express): A comment piece which discusses why immigration may harm the UK economy. Again, think about how the author backs up their argument.

Data-driven evidence and research

  • Full Fact (2017a): This is a great place to start, as it’s a simple introduction to the wage impact of immigration.
  • BBC (2019): The Reality Check team look at research to answer the question of whether immigration has held down wages in the UK.
  • Ben Brindle (2019): This blog post is written by me and explains some of the other findings in academic research.
  • Jonathan Portes (2016): This article discusses the way that national newspapers have misrepresented the findings of Nickell and Saleheen’s 2015 paper on the wage impact of immigration (see the Drury and Slack article, above).

  • Ethan Lewis (2017): In this article, a leading immigration economist explains the issues behind the theory which concludes that immigration harms wages and employment.
  • Migration Observatory (2020): A detailed overview of how immigration affects the labour market is provided here, including some of the ways that people and businesses may respond.
  • Full Fact (2017b): An even more detailed overview can be found here. This page expands on the reasons why the wage and employment response to immigration is so small (which are highlighted when you open the page).
  • Nina Heyden (2019): This research looks at why the UK-born change their jobs following immigration and won the Essex University’s 2018 Secondary Data Analysis Award.
  • Jonathan Portes (2018): In this commentary, Professor Jonathan Portes discusses his research which investigates how immigration affects productivity and training

  • Dustmann, Glitz and Frattini (2008): Section II of this academic paper – written by a leading immigration economist – gives an in-depth explanation of the different ways people and businesses respond to immigration.
  • Constant (2014): This page expands on some of the resources to explain why immigration does not impact employment in more detail.
  • Peri (2014): This is the most technical resource, but is also written by a leading immigration economist and explains how the labour market adjusts in detail.