Why Government's immigration stats don't add up

Chris Grayling claims Britain is awash with 'benefit tourists'. But the numbers disagree, says Nigel Hawkes

The figures put out by the Government appeared, at first blush, to indicate that immigrants were engaged in widespread abuse of the benefits system. Yesterday's front-page headline on The Daily Telegraph indicated as much: "370,000 migrants on the dole", it read, going on to suggest that the figures would "reopen the debate over the generosity of the welfare system".

But not everyone agrees with that analysis. Yesterday, a leading economist, Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), charged that the Government's claims were disproved by its own figures. And his argument bears consideration.

Mr Portes argues that far from proving immigrants are "benefit cheats", the data assembled by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) shows that they claim proportionately fewer benefits than those born in the UK. Of claimants definitely identified by the DWP, half are naturalised British, and 98 per cent are entitled to the benefits they are claiming. Only 2 per cent can be shown to be in the country illegally.

But Chris Grayling, the Employment Minister, suggested the figures were a measure of "benefit tourism", telling The Telegraph: "I want to look people in the eye and say that we have a system that's being cleared, that isn't the mess that was left by the previous government, where we can be confident we know the degree of challenge represented by benefit tourism, whether we've got the fraud issue, whether all this is in good shape."

Mr Grayling's figures were assembled jointly with the Home Office, by matching statistics from those applying for a National Insurance number to data on those claiming working age benefits. Benefit claims do not include information on place of birth, but applications for a National Insurance number do, so by matching the two sets of records it is possible to attribute place of birth to claimants.

Statistically, this is a neat trick. But what does it tell us? The DWP statisticians say it does not tell us the number of foreigners claiming benefits. It provides an estimate of the number claiming benefit who, when they entered the labour market, were not British nationals. That may have been years, or decades, ago. Since then more than half, as best as can be determined, have taken British nationality.

The analysis shows that 371,000 people who meet this description were claiming benefit in February 2011, out of 5.5 million claimants. Mr Portes says migrants represent about 13 per cent of UK workers but – from the DWP's own figures – less than 7 per cent of claimants.

The DWP's analysis puts the same point another way. "As of February 2011, 16.6 per cent of working-age UK nationals were claiming a DWP working-age benefit compared to 6.6 per cent of working-age non-UK nationals (at the time they first registered for a National Insurance number)."

It is not surprising that migrants are less likely to claim benefits than nationals. They tend to be younger, have come to Britain to work, and do not qualify for benefits immediately.

Mr Grayling and Damian Green, the Immigration Minister, admit in The Telegraph that "most" of those tracked down by the data-matching exercise have a right to what they receive.

Their accusation is not of fraudulent migrants, but of a system left in "chaos" by Labour. But, their language conveys the impression the UK is being ripped off by migrants with no entitlement to benefits, rather the opposite of what the statistics show. Chris Bryant, Labour shadow Immigration Minister, said the ministers were resorting to "rhetoric and misinformation".

Nigel Hawkes is a contributing editor to Straight Statistics

Leading article: A shameful spinning of the facts on immigration

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Magento Front End Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Front End Web Developer is re...

Investigo: management accountant

£250 - £300 per day: Investigo: Growing international marketing business requi...

Recruitment Genius: ORM / Online Reputational Consultant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ORM Consultant is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Facilities Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of educat...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore