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Friday 20th January 2012 | 13:20
Chris Grayling and Damian Green both have form on the dodgy use of statistics. Today they are at it again -- this time to hide their twin failings on immigration and unemployment.
This morning they claimed that the immigration and benefits system was "scandalous". In an article for the Daily Telegraph they said that "millions of people came through open doors to the UK - sometimes in the backs of lorries, sometimes as students who never went home when their studies finished, sometimes as failed asylum seekers who were never asked to leave". They linked this to an 'estimated' 371,000 migrants claiming out-of-work benefits to make their political claims.
Yet once again, all is not what it seems.
Rather than people claiming benefits after entering the UK "in the backs of lorries" the Government's "ad-hoc analysis" (their words) says that, from sampling, 98% of the 371,000 had an immigration status that entitled them to claim working age benefits. 54% of them are actually now British citizens. There is also no information on when they entered the UK - some may have come decades ago - and no mention of the large numbers of British people claiming benefits outside of the UK too. Only 2% were found to potentially not have legitimate status to claim the benefit.
Green and Grayling's report - which they don't mention in their article - also notes that, as of February 2011, "16.6% of working age UK nationals were claiming a DWP working age benefit compared to 6.6% of working age non-UK nationals (at the time they first registered for a National Insurance Number)". So that means migrants are significantly more likely to be working and supporting themselves than people who are UK born.
Migrants represent about 13% of all workers, but less than 7% percent of out-of-work claimants. Foreign nationals from outside the EEA represent about 4.5% of all workers, but a little over 2% of out-of-work benefit claimants.
Indeed recent research for the Government's own Migration Advisory Committee, carried out by the NIESR, notes: "Looking at the main elements of state spending - benefits, health and education - migrants impose less than proportionate costs on the state."
So none of these facts justify the grand rhetoric. Ministers have not in fact explained exactly what it is they believe to be "scandalous," nor what major change in policy would turn it around.
There do need to be strict controls on both immigration and welfare. Migrants coming to Britain to work should be able to support themselves, to contribute and to benefit the economy. We need the skilled workers that our economy needs. That's why Labour in Government introduced a tough Points-Based System and closed the route for unskilled non-EU workers. We reformed welfare with a new right to reside test for all new immigrants from 2004 onwards.
We also believe further reforms are needed - both on immigration and on welfare, to make sure responsibility is properly embedded in the system.
But instead of a serious debate, Tory ministers are just pushing misinformation and undermining honest discussion of the challenges and sensible reforms.
So why, if the facts don't support their claims are the immigration minister and the unemployment minister so keen to push this story and attack the Labour government?
Because both have much to hide. And both need to distract attention from their own policies and decisions thus far.
On immigration, David Cameron promised no ifs no buts, net migration would fall to the tens of thousands. Instead net migration is going up.
Today ministers promised more deportations. Yet the number of illegal migrants being turned back or deported has fallen since the election. And even when people are caught hiding in lorries at Calais, Damian Green has stopped UKBA even taking their finger prints so they can be identified if they try to get in again. This summer our borders were opened up to potentially millions of people and immigration checks were abandoned.
Meanwhile despite the government's rhetoric on welfare to work, the number of people on unemployment benefit has been rising month on month because of the government's economic failure. George Osborne had to admit he will have to spend an extra £9bn on out of work benefits as a result.
Immigration and welfare are both complex and emotive issues. Reforms are needed to both that go further than changes we made in government. But this can only be done in climate of honesty about facts and open debate with public, or trust will decline further. Damian Green has been reprimanded by the Head of the UK Statistics Authority, and Chris Grayling made a name for himself for misusing statistics. On their record even thus far, neither Green nor Grayling are up to the job.
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