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The health of migrants in the UK


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This briefing examines the outcomes of people who were born abroad and have migrated to the UK. The word ‘migrant’ is used differently in different contexts. In this briefing, we use the term ‘migrant’ to refer to the foreign born, regardless of whether they have become UK citizens. For a discussion of this terminology, see the Migration Observatory briefing Who Counts as a Migrant: Definitions and their Consequences.

This briefing relies on the Labour Force Survey (LFS) quarterly data from 2018 and the Annual Population Survey (APS) from 2017. The two surveys collect data on respondents’ self-reported health as well as on relevant sociodemographic characteristics and labour market situation. Only respondents’ who are aged 16 or older are asked the questions included in the health modules. Because all the data are self-reported, it is possible that certain health conditions are misreported.

The LFS is the largest household study in the UK (39,000 households) and provides the official measures of employment and unemployment. It collects information about a wide range of topics on individuals above age 15 every quarter. The APS includes most of the same individuals as the LFS but also includes and additional boost to the sample. Some variables are not available in the APS, however, and in those cases this briefing uses the LFS instead. The LFS/APS have some important limitations. Some people are excluded, such as residents of communal establishments like hostels, and other groups may be undercounted due to survey non-response. Its response rate has declined over time, and is now below 50% (ONS, 2016); this means that people who are more likely not to respond to the survey may be undercounted. ONS analysis based on the Census suggests that non-response is a greater problem among people born outside of the UK (Weeks et al, n.d.).

Health variables in the LFS and the APS

The health data presented in this briefing refers to long-lasting health problems; that is, physical or mental health conditions or illnesses that are lasting or are expected to last at least 12 months. Under the Equality Act 2010, health conditions may be considered a disability if they have a substantial adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities for at least 12 months (Equality Act 2010: Chapter 15, Part 2 Chapter 1 Section 6).

Respondents reporting a long-lasting health problem give information about the extent to which their health problem affects their ability to carry out day-to-day activities (not at all, a little, or a lot). This briefing uses the term ‘limiting health problem’ when the respondent has said that the health problem limits their daily activities either a little or a lot. It uses the term ‘non-limiting health problem’ when they have said that they have a long-lasting health condition that does not limit their daily activities.

Data breakdowns

In addition to country of birth, most data breakdowns include individuals’ age, which is a key determinant of their health. Both biological and social determinants have to be acknowledged in any analysis comparing the health of the foreign and the UK born, as these factors will differ across the two groups.

 The briefing presents data for the UK-born and foreign-born populations either as a whole or for different country of birth groupings. The country categories are the following:

EU-14 countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden).
EU-8 (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia), EU-2 (Bulgaria and Romania) and EU Other (Croatia, Malta and Cyprus) countries. Sometimes we refer to this group as new accession countries.
Middle East and North African (MENA) countries and Central Asian countries; the largest groups in these categories were born in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and North Africa (Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, South Sudan and Tunisia).
East Asian & Southeast Asian countries; the largest groups within this category were born in the Philippines, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and Taiwan.
Pakistan and other South Asian countries (Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal). Most of the respondents in this category were born in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Sub-Saharan African countries; the largest groups within this category were born in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania.
All foreign born; this category includes all the non-UK born population. Migrants born in non-EU European countries, America and Oceania are included here along with those born in the abovementioned country groupings.

About 40% of migrants in the UK were born in the EU and around a quarter were born South, East or Southeast Asian countries.


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