Graffiti in Greece reflects the unemployment rate: a quarter of workers are jobless. Photo: Getty.
Show Hide image

Across Europe, those born abroad are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed

The UK’s foreign-born unemployment rate is comparatively low, and its unemployment rate is one of Europe’s lowest.

You can read this piece in full on May2015.com – our election site.

To understand the endless Eurozone crisis, a useful fact to grasp is this: the unemployment rate in Germany, the continent’s biggest and richest country, is a fifth of the rate in Greece, its most indebted and crisis-ridden.

Looking at European unemployment rates also helps to make sense of this year’s election, now little more than 100 days away. Debates over policy in this election have so far been familiar, formulaic and vapid. But ever day a battle quietly rages over the economy.

May2015’s Drilldown shows how the Tories lead Labour on the issue. But why are they ascendant? Part of the reason is unemployment. George Osborne presided over more than two years of anemic growth in 2011 and 2012, but the UK’s unemployment rate is now among the lowest in Europe.

5.9 per cent of British job-seekers were unemployed as of November 2014 (per FT.com, where you can track this data in impressive detail). That compares to 10.0 per cent across the European Union (EU-28).

Only two countries have a significantly lower unemployment rate – Germany and Austria – and the UK is still within a percentage point of both of them.

These are the statistics Osborne can use to preface his election Budget. Two years ago he had little to offer. Unemployment had only just fallen below 8 per cent and growth had been either negative or negligible in five of the previous nine quarters.

As the economy improved, its importance fell in voters’ minds. In April 2013 nearly 80 per cent of us thought it one of the three most important issues facing the country. Now only half do.

In turn, immigration gradually succeeded it as the greatest issue facing the country (although there is now some evidence voters are tiring of the subject).

One of the subjects which unites both issues is foreign-born workers. How do first-generation immigrants fare in the job market?

In the UK, as in almost every European country, the foreign-born are considerably more likely to be unemployed. The unemployment rate among foreign-born Brits is 8.5 per cent – around 30 per cent higher than the national rate. [1]

That is good compared to most of Europe: foreign-born unemployment is, on average, nearly 80 per cent higher.

The foreign-born are less likely to be employed in the UK, but the differences are nowhere near as stark as in places like Sweden or Belgium.

Both countries have similar unemployment rates to the UK, but foreign-born unemployment is at, or near, 20 per cent. It is less than 9 per cent in the UK.

The graph below maps the national rate (blue line) and foreign-born rate (red bars) on the same graph. [2]

The EU is the barometer for the UK. As the Guardian reported yesterday, the number of EU migrants claiming benefits in the UK pales in comparison to the number of Britons claiming benefits in wealthier EU countries.

Those numbers were a reminder of how the EU is a great benefit to some Britons. Comparing unemployment rates is a reminder of how the UK is now outperforming many European countries – and could hand the Tories the election.

[1] These numbers are for 2013, the most recent year for which EU-wide data is available, and are for unemployment among 20-64 year olds.

[2] Foreign-born data isn’t, as you can see, available for every country.

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

Photo: André Spicer
Show Hide image

“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.