Are you stupid? What has happened to rational debate over immigration? (video)

Lately we have been swamped.  Totally overwhelmed in fact. You may not have noticed it but most of us have been, particularly in recent months. We are drowning in a sea of fake or fictional statistics (‘fictistics’ as I like to call them), unfounded accusations and non-sensical arguments that would carry no weight except that they are often found on the lips of some junior minister of state or even from the Prime Minister himself spurred on, as he is, by the faux populism of Nigel Farage and UKIP.  However, as the Daybreak excerpt demonstrates, the imaginary landscape of migration mythmaking is only partially the work of our self-serving elected government.

By and large, it is the ‘main stream media’ that has been engaged in the global arms race of false data presentation and the bending and torturing of statistics until they say whatever the relevant point that the ‘journalist’ is trying to make. Broadly the more obtuse or extreme the point being made the more flexible the evidence is required to be to fit the argument.

Hence public discourse is now overflowing with misused statistics, half arsed, non peer reviewed ‘research’, polling results where the questions have been deliberately skewed so that the buyer can achieve the answer that he’s paid for (and, in politics, it’s invariably a man) and many more data abuses and misrepresentations than any one citizenry deserves.

Sometimes as with the first stage report of the EU competences review, if the results do not suit the opinion sheets editors view, they will simply downgrade or deny the significance of the evidence and quickly move to replace it in the news agenda with another ‘story’ that fits with their own narrative. In this way, objective information never has a chance to make it into the public’s consciousness.

So what is it that has obsessed the editors of these opinion sheets for months on end? Yes, of course, it’s immigration and welfare. It’s almost as if Prism, Bradley Manning, Egypt, Syria, Barclays market rigging, corporate tax avoision and malfeasance, NHS A&E crises, lobbying, Amazon….. barely happened.

As if to prove my point, today Rupert Murdoch’s The Times served up this headline:

Cameron Loves Playing To The Mob
Cameron Loves Playing To The Mob

You may consider this to be a fair and reasonable headline given the hysteria that surrounds the subject of immigration in the UK today. But is it really?

Each and every editor of the opinion sheets and newspapers mentioned knows two key and largely undisputed facts that make The Times’ headline nothing more than a rabble rousing puff designed to sustain anti-immigrant and anti-EU fervour amongst the public. It  cannot have escaped your notice that the immigrants that are currently the hate figures for the  reactionary right are the Romanians and the Bulgarians and that this follows hard on the heels of similar bile that has been spewed upon the Poles, Czech’s, Lithuanians etc. that ‘swamped’ the UK in 2004.  So what are these facts?

1. It is accepted by the knowledgeable on both sides that the central European immigrants that have come to the UK to date are net contributors to the UK economy – a fact recently confirmed by the Office of Budgetary Responsibility (see research below); and

2. Of the 24 OECD countries in the EU, on almost all measures the generosity of UK out of work benefits is the lowest of our European neighbours (see research below).  Does the UK sound like it would be a tantalising prospect to a Romanian or Bulgarian when Germany or France or a host of other countries are closer, pay more in benefits and have less hostile environments for immigrants?


The Facts:

In 2011, according to the DWPs own figures there were fewer than 13,000 immigrants from A8 countries (“Accession Eight”- Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Slovenia) claiming Job Seekers Allowance  in the UK. That’s from a total A8 immigrant population of c.1.1 million as established by the 2011 census. That is 0.01%.

The following is extracted from the most significant piece of research completed on this subject to date is broadly accepted by all sides of the immigration debate and is  by Dustmann, C., Frattini, T. & Halls, C. (2009). “Assessing the Fiscal Costs and Benefits of A8 Migration to the UK” CReAM Discussion Paper No. 18/09.

Key characteristics of A8 immigrants, compared to native workers, are illustrated in Table 1

A8 immigrants are:

  • younger and better educated than the native population
  • have a higher labour market attachment than natives due to a higher labour market participation rate (88% versus 79%)
  • a higher employment rate (83% versus 75%)
  • Despite the higher level of education among A8 immigrants, they are disproportionately concentrated in the least-skilled occupations (71% are in routine or semi-routine occupations versus 24% of natives)
  • their hourly wages are considerably lower than those of natives throughout all parts of the wage distribution
  •  there has been a remarkable increase in average wages. For example, the wages of the cohort that arrived in 2004/2005 have increased by 40% after four years in the UK. Likewise, employment and participation rates increase with time in the country.

Table 1. Characteristics of A8 immigrants and UK natives

Table 1
  • A8 immigrants are 60% less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credit and to live in social housing.
  • Even if A8 immigrants had the same demographic characteristics of natives, they would still be 13% less likely to receive benefits and 28% less likely to live in social housing
  • A8 immigrants made a positive contribution to public finance (see Table 2). For instance, in the fiscal year, 2008-09, A8 immigrants paid 37% more in direct or indirect taxes than they received in public goods and services.
  • This is even more remarkable because the UK has been running a budget deficit in recent      years. In contrast, in 2008-09 UK-born individuals contributed to the Exchequer 20% less than they received in terms of public goods and services.

Table 2

Table 2
  • A8 immigrants receive, on average, lower wages than UK-born workers despite their better educational background, in particular immediately after entering the UK.
  • The reason is that they have a higher labour force participation rate (increasing the number of fiscal contributors), are likely to pay (proportionately) more in indirect taxes like VAT, and – most importantly – make much lower use of benefits and public services.
  • For instance, in 2008-09 A8 immigrants represented 0.91% of the total UK population, but contributed to 0.96% of total tax receipts and accounted for only 0.6% of total expenditures.

“These facts paint a very positive picture of A8 immigration to the UK – highly educated young people enter the UK predominantly to work, making subsequent positive contributions to the tax system. Our analysis also suggests that the labour market situation of immigrants substantially improves with time in the UK, in terms of both wages and labour force attachment.

Thus, in our view, there is little reason to believe that, in the longer run, A8 immigrants who arrived between 2004 and 2008 will constitute a net burden to the welfare system. This is also in line with the results of the analysis on the probability of welfare claims, which shows that A8 immigrants – even if they were identical in a large number of characteristics to natives, like age, education, number of children and disability – would still be less likely to claim benefits.”

..And Finally

For those of you that believe the A8 immigrants have been responsible for a UK wide crime wave, you should consider this: according to a recent London School of Economics Study burglary, vandalism and car theft have all declined in places with an influx of immigrants from eastern Europe.

The report, to be published later this year in Harvard University’s Review of Economics and Statistics, also found that the relationship between the arrival of  thousands of foreigners and levels of violence was “close to zero and insignificant“.

Brian Bell, a research fellow at the LSE, said: “The view that foreigners commit more crime is not true. The truth is that immigrants are just like natives: if they have a good job and a good income they don’t commit crime.”


Most media operations have some blame in the dissemination of falsehoods about immigration but by some distance, the main purveyors of these crudities are the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun and, to a lesser extent, The Telegraph.

Sadly The Sun website was ‘undergoing maintenance’ as I was writing this but to give you some idea of the obsessiveness of these journals with their chosen bête noires here are the search results from the Telegraph and Daily Mail’s own website search tools for the stories that have included the word “immigration” for the most recent day that results are available:

Mail Immigration Stories 31.7.13
Mail Immigration Stories 31.7.13
Telegraph Immigration Stories 30.7.13
Telegraph Immigration Stories 30.7.13

Today the Daily Mail had NINE stories mentioning the word “immigration” versus the Telegraph’s TWELVE from yesterday.  The Mail’s reports included:

  • Exit Checks To Track Immigrants leaving Britain will not be re-introduced by 2015
  • Spread-eagled against the wall and marched off single file: How Russia deals with illegal immigrants” and ‘bad scientist’ Melanie Phillips’ objectivity free rant
  • The Tories are just as desperate as Labour to hide the real truth about immigration
Is This What Melanie Phillips And The Mail Are After?

Is This What Melanie Phillips And The Mail Are After?

Notice how these stories are focussed on ramping up the fear of this unknown, unquantified number of foreigners and are neatly included with, what we have to suppose is the Mail’s own preferred solution of, rounding these ‘illegal’s’ up and marching them off single file not unlike  the German’s did to the Jews in the 1930’s or Stalin did during his periodic ‘purges’.  It ought to be surprising that Miss Phillips would buy into that idea but given the extreme nature of her views on issues ranging from MMR to Iran I am ready to accept this level of callousness fits with her world view.

Still, none of this takes account of the reality of what is known to be happening as opposed to what the public now perceive to be the case because of the constant misleading headlines and background noise generated by the Mail, The Times, the Telegraph et al.

Why is that?

Perhaps Dominic Holland, one of this week’s full time guest’s on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff can provide an answer.  This morning he contributed the following insight when discussing a story in today’s Telegraph about how many children are defined by schools as having ‘special needs’ (yes, they did have room for something other than immigrant bashing):

DH: How many state school boy’s in Britain have special needs?… one in four. In the Telegraph they’re saying it’s become an industry because the more kids who are registered with special needs, you get more money, you get more support but also it mitigates your poor results. So if you’ve got poor results as a school but you’ve got lots of kids with special needs it mitigates the fact that your school is not fairing very well. So, you know, I certainly don’t believe those numbers. I’ve got four kids…   

MW: …so statistically one of them… of them actually IS……my other son was diagnosed as dyslexic when he was a little kid whether he is or not whether he’s just a bit slow with his spelling, I’m not comfortable with one in four kids being in special needs at all….

MW: Even though within your own family, you’ve got four boys and one of yours…

DH: Well I would bear that out but I still don’t believe that at all. I think that’s a case of engineering figures….league tables for schools….

Now to be fair, statistically, Holland is correct in not extrapolating from his own circumstances to make a claim about the broader population. Nonetheless, his assertion that the numbers must be wrong because, presumably, it’s a story in the Telegraph is equally unsubstantiated. The curious point for many observers is why he is so ready to reject the only evidence that he can reasonably be certain of which is that within his own offspring one in four of his children is defined as having special needs.

If, as I suspect is the case, the wider population of this country is happier to accept what they are told is the ‘truth’ by the Daily Mail even though they know that it may not be the whole story rather than the evidence that is in front of their faces every day then the problem of unwinding and unlearning the lies and half-truths about immigration that are commonplace in our communities is a more significant task than I had originally imagined.

Of course not every story that includes the word immigration is an attack on immigrants but those that aren’t often are sarcastic and petty in making related points. Thus you may have come across this Tweet from the Telegraph’s Politics team yesterday (in this case including my reply).

Completely Missing The Point

Completely Missing The Point

In trying to belittle the understandable concern of those that recall the phrases “N*gger, go home!” and “Paki, Go Home” being used by the National Front and other right wing groups in the streets along the length and breadth of this country in the 1970s and 1980s; the Telegraph has revealed how contemptuous it is, not only of the immigrant population of this country but also of its recent history.

“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish”, the words of Euripides could not be more apt.   

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