‘UK would grind to a halt without migrants’, say economists as thousands celebrate their contribution

Kelsi Farrington

The UK economy would lose £328m – or four per cent of total UK daily GDP – if migrants stopped working for the day, according to new research. It comes as tens of thousands of people take part in a national day of action to celebrate migrants’ contribution

New data announced today by the New Economics Foundation suggests that if all UK-based migrant workers stopped for working for one day, the UK would lose four per cent of its daily GDP – £328m. The findings come on the day that tens of thousands of people across the UK have pledged their support for migrants by celebrating their contribution to British life.

One Day Without Us is a national day of action timed to coincide with UN World Day of Social Justice. For 24 hours, people will stand in solidarity with migrants. Actions range from the symbolic, wearing badges or posting selfies to show people’s support, to the literal. Some are holding five minutes of silence while others are lobbying to guarantee the rights of residence of EU citizens. A number of businesses will close for the day to make the point that Britain couldn’t manage for even one day without the contribution of migrants. Street celebrations are taking place in Chinatown in London, ‘poetryathons’ are being held in Sheffield and picnics in Aberystwyth, among others up and down the UK.

One Day Without Us is about celebrating the many diverse ways in which migrants have contributed to Britain

Migrant workers in the UK make up 10.9 per cent of the total workforce. But according to the Migration Observatory, that number increases dramatically in certain key sectors. Some 31 per cent of cleaning and household staff and 26 per cent of health professionals are foreign-born.


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The UK’s food industry is particularly reliant on migrant workers. While migrants from the EU make up about six per cent of the UK’s workforce, this rises to 11 per cent in food services, and in food manufacturing to 27 per cent.

The loss of migrant workers would be “an economic calamity and an affront to the hard-won openness and inclusivity that exists,” said Stephen Devlin, senior economist at the New Economics Foundation. For the food system, he described it as particularly “life threatening”.

“Fruit pickers in the strawberry fields of Scotland, warehouses full of vegetable packers in the East of England, Lincolnshire factory line workers checking Marks & Spencer chocolate eclairs, the cashier at the corner shop where you buy your milk, or the baristas at a London Pret a Manger, so many of these jobs are done by migrants,” said Devlin.

“Today is about celebrating the contributions that migrants make to all aspects of life in Britain, including the economy. Many of our industries are entirely reliant on foreign-born workers, and we should never forget that. Our research shows that if those born overseas were to down tools for a day, our whole economic system could grind to a halt. We urgently need to address the helplessness which so many people feel in the current economy. But we will not do that by succumbing to hatred and xenophobia. So today let’s celebrate the contributions made by everyone, no matter where they were born.”

We urgently need to address the helplessness which so many people feel in the current economy. But we will not do that by succumbing to hatred and xenophobia

Marc Stears, chief executive at the New Economics Foundation, added: “Britain has a long and proud tradition of openness to people from overseas and our research conclusively shows that migrants have more than repaid for the welcome they have received. Our future as a country depends on the economic, cultural and social contribution that migrants make. As countries all around the world succumb to the siren call of populism, we need to remember that contribution and to celebrate it.”

Rachel Taylor-Beales, one of the organisers of One Day Without Us, said: “One Day Without Us is about celebrating the many diverse ways in which migrants have contributed to Britain. And these extend well beyond the economy. But it is striking to see just how much migrants do add to economic output in a single day and what this country would lose if they weren’t here.”


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