No, we can’t give 8million ‘inactive’ Brits a job – despite Priti Patel’s claim

Tory Priti Patel hit the airwaves this morning to promote the UK's controversial post-Brexit immigration system.

From 1 January 2021, "low-skilled" migrants – which mostly means people earning under £20,000 a year – will not be able to get a work visa in the UK.

Only those earning over £25,600, or over £20,480 in a shortage occupation or with a relevant PhD, will be able to get a permit – and they'll need to be able to speak English.

Defending the system, the Home Secretary claimed British firms should train up and hire more UK workers.

"It is about time that businesses started to invest in people in this country," she told Sky News. "We have over eight million people… that are economically inactive right now."

But are there really eight million Brits out there, champing at the bit to get to work but blocked by migrants?

The short answer is no.

We've explained the longer answer below.

  • UK immigration rules for after Brexit confirmed – how the system will work

  • Boris Johnson's low-paid migrants ban 'disaster' as builders, bakers and care face big hit

What did Priti Patel say?

Ms Patel told Sky News: "It is about time that businesses started to invest in people in this country.

"We have over eight million people, that is 20% of the workforce aged between 16 and 64, that are economically inactive right now. So it’s important…"

Told some of those people did not want the jobs on offer she said: "That is an assumption that has been made.

“But it is down to businesses as well to work with the government, to join us in investing in people, levelling up across the United Kingdom so we can have wage growth across the entire country but also investment, innovation when it comes to supporting people and training them.”

So are there really 8million 'economically inactive' people in the UK?


According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were 8,478,000 economically inactive people aged between 16 and 64 in the last three months of 2019.

Just as Priti Patel said, they make up 20.5% of the population.

And are they all ready to take a job?


Not all of them.

Not even most of them.

Why not?

Well, because 'economic inactivity' is not the same as 'unemployment'. It's a completely different thing.

This huge category of people contains millions who have a good reason for not being in work.

Of the 8.5million:

  • 2.3million are students
  • 2.1million are long-term sick
  • 1.9million are looking after a family or home
  • 1.1million are retired (but under the age of 65)
  • 160,000 are temporarily sick
  • 947,000 fall into the category of 'other'

So how many of them do want a job?

According to the ONS, 1.9million of the 8.5million economically inactive people want a job. Which is a large number, but is not in any way the same as 8.5million.

Of those 1.9million people who want a job, 571,000 are long-term sick, 471,000 are looking after family or their home and 405,000 are students.

It's possible that some of those long-term sick people are trying to get a job but, for example, finding it difficult due to their particular needs. Or that students are struggling to get a part-time job with the right balance.

Some of them do of course get jobs.

Between summer and winter 2019, 67,000 'economically inactive' people got a job, according to the ONS.

However, that was dwarfed by 104,000 who moved from 'inactivity' to official 'unemployment'.

Yes and no.

No one can deny almost 2million is a lot of people.

But it's also a record low. At 20.5%, it's 0.4 points lower than the previous year, and down from a peak of well over 9million after the financial crash.

Meanwhile, unemployment is also at a record low (3.8% or 1.3million) and employment is at a record high (76.5%), something the Tories rightly like to point out at every opportunity.

That means that there are fewer people in the UK who are in a position to take the 810,000 vacancies available.

This is why business leaders are claiming the Tory immigration system – which will deny visas to many low-paid workers – will leave some jobs in the UK unfilled.

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