New data on EU nationals in the UK gives a clear picture of contribution to the economy

Press Releases

3 Feb 2017

New analysis by the Institute for Employment Studies gives an informative data snapshot of the number, status and characteristics of EU27 nationals living in the UK, and UK nationals living in Europe.

The report for the European Parliament, Brexit implications for employment and social affairs: facts and figures, finds that UK expenditure on welfare benefit is more than forty times lower than expenditure for UK nationals. Overall, the researchers concluded that EU migrants are net contributors to the UK economy in terms of taxes and welfare benefits, as they bring more to the UK economy than they cost it. Benefits expenditure for EU nationals accounted for between 2.26 and 2.42 per cent of the total UK benefits expenditure in 2015.

The new report also finds that, in comparison with the UK workforce, the employment rate of EU nationals in the UK is higher and the unemployment rate is lower. In 2015, the employment rate of EU nationals was 75.1 per cent in contrast to 71.9 per cent of UK citizens. In the same year, the unemployment rate was 5.1 per cent for EU nationals compared to 5.3 per cent of UK citizens.

The report further revealed that EU nationals are more likely to be employed in low-skilled work. Any changes in the number of EU nationals working in the UK could therefore have implications for sectors such as agriculture, care and hospitality.

Andrea Broughton, principal research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, commented, ‘It’s very interesting to see that, despite assertions about EU migrants claiming benefits, in reality that figure is relatively very low. We have certainly seen a growing number of people coming in from the EU but as a whole they continue to contribute more to the economy than they take out. The number of UK citizens living abroad has also doubled over the same time, although the overall numbers are smaller.’


Further data

The full report is available to download

Other findings of note include:

  • The total number of EU nationals living in the UK grew from 1,345,000 in 1990 to 2,988,072 in 2015.
  • The number of UK citizens living in the EU grew from 661,505 in 1990 to 1,216,041 in 2015.
  • The EU population in the UK includes a large percentage of young people, particularly those aged between 25 and 34.

Notes to editor


Andrea Broughton, principal research fellow at IES, is available for interview and comment.

The Institute for Employment Studies

The Institute for Employment Studies is the UK’s leading independent, not-for-profit centre for research and evidence-based consultancy on employment, the labour market, and HR policy and practice.

IES tweets from @EmploymtStudies

Andrea Broughton

Andrea has over 20 years' experience of research in the areas of employment relations and industrial relations, specialising in international comparative research. She has managed international research projects in the employment and labour market areas, for clients such as the European Commission, the International Labour Organisation, the European Parliament, Acas, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Andrea’s specific areas of expertise include workplace-level industrial relations; European social dialogue; restructuring and change management; health and wellbeing issues; precarious work; older workers; and the gig economy.