What's with all the 'white flight' stuff anyway?

Yesterday's hastily put together 'More white shite' looked at the Mail's most recent foray into scaremongering about the numbers of white people dwindling in this country while we are overrun by - gasp - ethnic minorities. It was a quick and dirty look through the distortions the paper had made to push it's point, but I want to have a separate look at the whys and wherefores of using the main exaggeration technique the paper used - adding Irish people to the 'established white population' of Britain.

Before I go on it would probably be good to get a couple of general points out of the way.

This latest white flight story is an example of the paper taking a pre-existing narrative it had only hinted at with innuendo and clever juxtaposition of pictures a little further in explicitly referring to race. It is not an example of the paper merely discovering interesting new statistics and reporting them, since it had previously published a similar story that promoted the exact same idea before it had access to these figures.

Given that, the story is another example of how the actual figures don't matter. The statistics are subordinate to the narrative the paper's trying to push. Since this is the second story that explicitly refers to white people leaving the country, it suggests that an editorial decision has been made to do that rather than imply, which is what the paper did before. Over and over and over.

In the scheme of things though, a drop of about 70,000 in the white British population in 2005-2006 due to emigration isn't actually very scary compared to the hundreds of thousands the paper had previously implied had left, which is why the paper has to distort a bit to increase it - but adding 5,000 to the total by including white Irish people makes little difference and the actual numbers don't matter anyway - so why do it at all?

The key is in one phrase, which shows the second part of the narrative in any immigration scare story in the Mail - and one that I haven't really focused on before properly since I'm normally looking at the main one. Here's the relevant phrase:
The figures have been calculated for every year back to 2002 - and this was the biggest decline yet.
The only way the paper can say that the most recent figures represented the 'biggest decline yet' is to include white Irish people in the calculations. And that's the second part of the narrative in any immigration scare story. That the most recent figures are the highest ever and the situation is getting 'out of contrtol'.

The paper adds to this impression in the story by following up with:
In the previous year, there had been a drop of just 42,300.
This makes it look as though there had been a steady fall of around 42,000 every year and things have shot up in 2005-06 - along with another unusually high spike in 2004 that it does actually mention.

In reality, the 42,300 is the unusually low figure. If we look at the actual figures for the number of white British people emigrating (going through the trouble of adding Irish people in the mix would be following the paper's less than honest agenda - plus, I cannot be arsed - but you can see that the 2004 including Irish people is still lower than all the other years for just British people), we can see the following drops due to emigration:

2001-02: -57,000
2002-03: -67,700
2003-04: -71,200
2004-05: -38,500
2005-06: -70,400

These figures would make a much better scare story about the numbers of white British people emigrating in recent years. Look! It's loads! Thing is though, the 'biggest decline yet' is the most important thing the paper is pushing. A more immediate story is likely to have more impact than one that looks in depth at previous trends.

Of course, in most immigration scare stories, some details get left out if they contradict the impression the paper's trying to give. In this one, the paper is scaring us by giving the impression that the white British population is dropping quickly, with this year being the biggest decline yet - while other ethnic groups are growing. Run to the hills!

The important detail, which would give a vastly different impression than the one the paper is trying to give, is the natural change in the white British popoulation - ie, the number of babies born compared to the number of deaths. While the paper does mention that:
Even though there were more births than deaths, the white British and Irish population still fell by almost 15,000 in 2006.
(This is inaccurate, since the paper has confused itself what with all this adding Irish people and not adding Irish people. The 'almost 15,000' only applies to white British. It would be closer to 25,000 had the paper included Irish people). This doesn't let us know how this compares with previous years. Having a look at the white British population, we can see that the overall change in population including natural change and emigration shows a very different trend:

2001-02: -57,800
2002-03: -62,800
2003-04: -48,900
2004-05: -3,600
2005-06: -14,900

While this year isn't the lowest drop yet, it's the second lowest - and less than half the level of the third lowest drop.

Had the paper been honestly interested in the fall in the numbers of white British people in the country, it would have mentioned these figures - but it's more important to push the 'biggest decline yet' idea, so only one year gets a mention - the figure from the same year we've been told is the 'biggest decline yet' in the white British population.

To be honest though, the level of contorting figures in this article is pretty low compared to others. It's not as if it pretends that over 10,000 people came to the country in three months to be circus stars when the real number was 55. But it shows the shift to explicitly worrying about the number of white people leaving the country, and shows pretty clearly how the paper trims stories to fit ongoing narratives rather than making stories shape those narratives. It's a subtle difference, but an important one. Alongside the playing down of reporting murders of brown people if they're not in gangs and playing up the number of black people accused of knife crimes as the paper has been doing recently, it's a worrying one as well.


eric the fish said...

Welcome Back. mastery of the figures. i did have a look at them when the article appeared but my eyes started to bleed.

I'm trying to find official figures for council house/HA allocation by ethnic group/immigrants.

You covered this in part in post dated April 09.

A local Mail-ite loon is quoting 85% which appears high even by Mail standards.

It sort of ties in with the perception the Mail is trying to convey. People are quoting headlines at best. If you flood the article with misleading and confusing figures then the mind does tend to wander. Safe to say that Doughty and Slack no this.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Hi Eric,

The figures I looked at in April were only for immigrants rather than ethnic minorities - but there was a study a while ago that looked into how much each ethnic group claimed benefits, etc. that might have included council housing - although it wasn't an official set of figures.
I'll have a dig and see if I can find them.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Okay - the report I had in mind is here at the IPPR.

It's only about immigrants being in public housing, split by nationality. I don't know of any actual figures that show how many ethnic minorities are in social housing - so it's up to whoever's making the 85% claim to provide the proof.

Don't hold your breath waiting for it.

eric the fish said...

Thank you very much.
The report was in line with what I had found at EHRC. I recall the Dispatches programme in question.


I was able to use the data in an email to the local radio station which sparked a long debate on the phone-in!

Should be available on listen again
for 7 days. (Roger Phillips Thurs)
From about 22 minutes.
Radio Merseyside

There is a classic at about 34 mins when Roy adds up all the figures to make more than 85!

Hope the links work OK.