The Pound’s Impact on Global Migrants

Austin Barclay McCullough

The British Pound has been in a slump on the world currency exchange market for the last two years, and is currently trading at the lowest average since 1990 – some 13% below its average in that time. This has had a variety of effects, but one of the least explored is the impact upon migrants and the remittances they send home. Britain is a premier destination for immigration, with people migrating from nearly every region of the globe. Even those persons who immigrate to the UK for reasons other than a job often send gifts of money to relatives in their home country. The traditionally strong value of the pound sterling makes these transactions worthwhile. Families in sending countries use the higher buying power to gain a relatively higher standard of living.

The UK’s currency has traditionally been one of the strongest in the world, but in the last two years its value has waned. This has been attributed to factors such as the strength of the US Dollar, global oil prices, and the uncertainty of the world market over the Brexit vote. This last reason is especially prescient: Britain’s vote whether to stay in the EU is fast approaching.

Migrant workers are often thought of in this country as the Polish, Romanian, Portuguese, or other European citizens taking advantage of EU free travel agreements. However, there are also large communities of people from the developing world who migrate here, including from South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Ghana have particularly large expatriate communities, though nearly every country on earth has migrants in London.

The families of migrants to England often rely heavily upon the money and goods sent home by their relatives. The salary of even an average low-skilled job in Britain can well support a family living in Ghana, for instance – better than an equivalent job’s salary in-country. In many parts of Africa and Asia, breadwinners work to support an extended family network, not just the Western notion of a nuclear family. There may be a dozen or more people relying upon income from remittances sent by a relative in the UK. With the decrease in relative value of the pound sterling, families in Africa suffer.

While this may not be a compelling reason for many to vote to stay in the European Union, it does illustrate the global impact of a local political squabble. With a country as influential as the United Kingdom, infighting between Tories and Labour (or whomever it may be) affects the lives of millions. Maybe the British people should take greater care to consider their impact on the world. If they do, they may be able to help more people across the globe live a more fulfilling life.