Unemployed Britons will be trained to fill jobs typically taken by overseas workers in an effort to reduce net migration, announced the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, as she introduced Labour’s new initiative to address the UK’s dependence on foreign labour.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Cooper revealed that Labour plans to launch a comprehensive cross-government campaign to train unemployed individuals for roles in sectors such as care, construction, and engineering, which are currently heavily reliant on migrant workers.

Cooper criticised the existing system, which offers businesses a 20 percent discount for overseas recruitment, claiming it “incentivises” employers to hire from abroad rather than invest in up-skilling domestic workers amidst the nation’s worklessness crisis.

Reducing net migration remains a pivotal issue for both Labour and the Conservatives, with both parties committed to lowering the numbers after net migration reached a record high of 745,000 in December 2022, nearly three times the pre-Brexit average.

“Net migration has trebled under the Conservatives and over the last five years really, since the last election,” Cooper stated. “And the Office for National Statistics has been clear that it is being driven by work migration – that is now the biggest cause. We believe net migration needs to come down.”

Committee’s Role to Be Strengthened

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) adjusted its net migration figures due to “unexpected patterns” in migrant behaviour, noting that migrants are staying in the UK longer. The ONS estimated net migration at a provisional 672,000 for the year ending June 2023, almost three times the pre-Brexit average of 200,000 to 250,000 annually. This figure challenges the Government’s 2019 manifesto pledge to reduce net migration from its then level of 226,000.

Under Labour’s proposals, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which advises the Home Office on workforce shortages and foreign worker visas, will see its role expanded. The MAC will collaborate with national skills bodies and the industrial strategy council within a new “tripartite framework,” using its research to recommend necessary training courses to increase the number of British workers in specific sectors.

Cooper criticised the current government for its “unregulated, free market approach” to migration, which has failed to address skill shortages among British workers. She noted, “They haven’t had proper controls in the system. And they’ve not only failed to tackle employers who were exploiting migration to undercut wages, but they’ve also actively encouraged this undercutting by having the 20 percent discount on overseas recruitment. This is one of the things that we had argued for some time should be changed, and the Conservatives have finally agreed it should change.”

Worklessness Crisis

This initiative to retrain the unemployed comes amid a growing worklessness crisis, with 9.25 million people now classified as “economically inactive” – neither working nor seeking employment – post-pandemic. This increase is largely due to a significant rise in long-term sickness, adding 717,000 people to the benefits bill since early 2020. Young people, particularly those in their early 20s, are now more likely to be signed off than 40-year-olds, often due to mental health issues.

“We know that there is a real issue about the number of people who are now out of the labour market altogether,” Cooper said. “Some of that is about people who are on long term waiting lists, NHS waiting lists and so we obviously want to bring NHS waiting lists down. And some of it is people who do need additional support in order to get back into the labour market.”

Also, the Shadow Education Secretary highlighted businesses’ urgent need for assistance to address skills shortages. Labour has pledged to reform the current apprenticeship levy, imposed on firms with an annual wage bill exceeding £3 million. In a campaign led by Bridget Phillipson, Labour promised that a new growth and skills levy would offer businesses greater flexibility to invest in training courses tailored to their needs, aiming to “turbocharge investment in skills for the future.”





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.