THREE months ago, the Office of National Statistics released migrations stats for the UK in 2006 in a regular press release.

The release included some quite comprehensive figures, one of which is that net migration of non-British citizens was 316,000. Total net migration was 191,000 because of the high number of British citizens who left the country in 2006.

At the time, the Daily Mail covered this in 'Half a million migrants pour into Britain in a year, but 200,000 leave'. See the reference to the 316,000 figure in the headline? The article also says this:
Overall, there was a gain of 316,000 foreign citizens and a loss of 126,000 Britons.
So, it was clear three months ago. Net inflow of 316,000 non-British citizens. Got it.

So how is this story, reported yesterday, news? 'More than 860 immigrants enter Britain EVERY DAY - and two-thirds come from outside EU'. Hang on, doesn't that work out as...I dunno...316,000 every year? It also says:
Official statistics reveal that the immigrant population has leapt by almost 2.4million since Labour came to power a decade ago.

They were released as the Government faced accusations of "fiddling the figures" after claiming the number of migrants from outside the EU was over half.

The figures show an increase of 316,000 immigrants - or 865 a day - for 2006 alone, the latest period for which figures are available.
As should be pretty obvious, these figures haven't just been released as the story implies. Instead, they're three months old and the paper already reported them.

The story claims this:
The figures were broken down by the Office for National Statistics in a bid to settle the row over where the bulk of new arrivals are coming from.
This is simply not true. The article doesn't reveal until 24 sentence/paragraphs in, but the row was initiated by MigrationWatch. It says:
The conclusion follows months of arguments between the Government and the Migrationwatch pressure group.
I wonder why this little nugget was buried so far down.

Whatever the reason for such a burial, the MigrationWatch website includes this press release about some correspondence with the Statistics Commission and the ONS, which this article is based on. The letter MigrationWatch first sent to the Statistics Commission is dated 17 December, over a month after the figures were released. The figures weren't released 'as the Government faced accusations of "fiddling the figures"', but a month before the accusations. The conclusion didn't come after months of arguments, but before them.

There's more fiddling by the paper on top of that. It says:
Normally, the focus is placed on "net migration" - the difference between the number of all people arriving in Britain, and those who are leaving.

The total - which was 191,000 in 2006 - includes British citizens returning from long-trips abroad or who are emigrating.

As a result, it masks the dramatic changes in the foreign population.

But once Britons are removed, the full details of the unprecedented wave of immigration from overseas is laid bare.
Rubbish. There's no other way of saying it. If the focus of the ONS was only on net migration, why is the title of their November 2007 press release 'Emigration from UK reaches 400,000 in 2006'? Why does the second paragraph, after the opening elaborates on the 400,000 figure, say:
Continuing the pattern of recent years, just over half of long-term emigrants (207,000) were British citizens.
Because what the paper is doing here is manufacturing an outrage about immigration statistics that isn't justified. None of the figures are new. The originals didn't focus entirely on net migration - the very title of the press release that included the figures was based on total emigration, not net, and the opening separates the figures for UK citizens who left the country. The comprehensive figures include all the breakdowns MigrationWatch was after. Presumably, Slack knew this, since they were used to create an outraged article using them three months ago by his sidekick, Steve Doughty.

So, what of the claims that the Government were caught out fiddling because they claimed that more than half the immigrants to the UK were from outside the EU?

The Statistics Commission confirms that this is actually the case, and even the Mail's interpretation of what the Commission said says is this:
When they [British people from the number of EU citizens] were removed, the percentage of new arrivals from non-EU countries was 68 per cent.
The controversy, such as it is, is not over the fact that Liam Byrne said the number of non-EU citizens coming to the UK was over half, but the level at which it was over half.

But what of that claim? That 68% of immigrants are from outside the EU? Looking back at the MigrationWatch press release and the letters between them and the Statistics Commission, we can see that there was actually a joint reply to MigrationWatch, including a contribution from the Office of National Statistics. The verdict is not unequivocal support for MigrationWatch.

The Statistics Commission says there are two ways of looking at the figures, and if you want to remove British Citizens from the EU figure for net immigration, then MigrationWatch's method is better than the Government's for doing that. But the Govermnent look at things in a different way, and the Commission doesn't say that's wrong in and of itself.

What it does say the Government is wrong for doing is using net migration to measure its figures. It offers an alternative to find a more accurate picture - of not using net migration at all and using total inflow instead. The Commission doesn't say that UK Citizens should be dropped from this measure and only uses an example including them.

The ONS says outright that net migration figures should not be used at all, and points out that MigrationWatch's revised figure of 68% is subject to the same problems as Liam Byrne's figures because it's based on net migration. It also includes an explanation of why MigrationWatch's interpretation of how Liam Byrne's figures were arrived at is wrong. He didn't add UK citizens to EU ones. This is the explanation:
If there had been a net inflow of zero, rather than 89k, for non-British EU citizens, the resulting overall net inflow would have been 96,000 (48% less).
The actual revised figure from the Statistics Commission (which uses total rather than net migration) is 58%, not 68% as this article and MigrationWatch's original letter suggest. So although the Commission agrees that Byrne's figure shouldn't have been based on net migration figures and therefore wasn't accurate, the revised figure it suggests in its place is closer to Byrne's than MigrationWatch's.

Back to the Mail article, which also says this:
In a parliamentary debate, Immigration Minister Liam Byrne claimed only 52 per cent of migrants to the UK were from countries outside the EU, such as Africa and the Commonwealth.

But the independent Statistics Commission said this figure included Britons returning from long trips abroad, such as backpacking holidays.
This is just a lie. The letter from the Commission says nothing of the sort.

The article here is claiming that some of the people in the ONS figures recorded as coming from outside the EU are actually UK citizens. Not only do the Commission not say this, but neither do the ONS figures. The ONS figures measure the numbers of people migrating to the UK by citizenship - not by the country they're arriving from. If they did, how could there ever be any people counted as coming from Britain? Not a single one of those from outside the EU are UK citizens.

The quotes from Sir Andrew Green, which are lifted word for word from the press release, are of him clearly overstating his case. The Statistics Commission does not agree that more than two thirds of immigrants come from outside the EU. It quite clearly offers an alternative measurement which it calls more accurate that shows it to be under two thirds - a claim supported by the ONS, who state outright that using net migration gives inaccurate results.

What we actually have here is Liam Byrne using the wrong set of figures to illustrate his point, MigrationWatch being given a more accurate figure and ignoring it in favour of a higher figure it has been told is just as inaccurate. If not more so since Byrne's was closer to the revised figure.

The article ignores the second half of MigrationWatch's letter to the Statistics Commission, which is no surprise since the press release ignores it too. Presumably because the ONS points out that the figures MigrationWatch claim are not in the public domain actually are, and that they're technically accurate even if MigrationWatch disagree with the way Byrne used them. Just like how some Mail articles are technically accurate but as wrong as can be in terms of whether they're actually true.

Yet again, the trouble with the truth is that it doesn't make a very good scaremongering headline. Nor does it allow for the paper to pretend limp, three month old figures are recent revelations.

Immigration is a difficult issue to get to the bottom of. It may well be best not to listen to Ministers. The thing is, it's just as bad to listen to MigrationWatch, since they trumpet figures in press releases that they've been told are not accurate. The tabloids do this and then exaggerate things even further. Nice.

Go for the source. You'll find it all there.

1 comment:

UpThePunx said...

I've never known a journalist to be as mendacious with figures as James Slack.

I thought journalism involved reporting what happens in the real world. Actual events as opposed to figments of people's imagination. Which you'd have thought involves actual facts and stuff, not what Slack pulls out of his arse week in, week out with tedious inevitability.

Silly me.