Thursday, 8 April 2010

Scaremongering about immigrants and jobs

Only a couple of days into the General Election campaign and a sign of things to come from the Express and the Mail:

It was unsurprising to see this story appearing on the BNP website soon after, the only party likely to benefit from such misleading and inflammatory coverage.

There have been some excellent posts already about today's reporting - see Claude at Hagley Road to Ladywood, Five Chinese Crackers, Nicola Smith and Richard Exell from the TUC at Left Foot Forward, Anton at Enemies of Reason and Full Fact - so this will just pick up some of the most important points.

1. The Left Foot Forward article makes clear that the Spectator, who originally produced the figures:

- Conflates 'non-UK born' with 'nationality' – there are many (around 1,432,000) non-UK born British nationals, excluding them from the analysis is to exclude five per cent of the UK labour force.

- Excludes UK workers over state pension age – a method that excludes 1,419,000 workers. There is no good reason for omitting this group – they are included in ONS’s widely reported analysis of total employment levels in the UK and comprise around five per cent of the workforce.

- Excludes public sector jobs – meaning that around 20 per cent of the jobs (public sector jobs excluding those in financial corporations) in the entire UK economy are discounted.

The Mail and Express have ignored these caveats completely.

2. The Mail claimed 'foreigners' (a word it seems to use with such utter contempt) had taken 98.5% of these jobs. The Express said it was 92%. The Spectator said it was 99%. Previously, the Mail had said it was 70%, while the Express has said 85% and 'all' new jobs had gone to migrants and it wasn't accurate then either.

The post at Left Foot Forward shows the actual figure may be closer to 50%.

As one of the authors points out:

if you include employed men aged 65+ and employed women aged 60+ then the proportions fall to 72.4 per cent. If you include people who were not born here but who are UK citizens the percentage falls again.

In the latest of many updates, the Spectator's Fraser Nelson has agreed with the above analysis.

3. The Mail uses 'foreigners' on its front page instead of 'foreign-born'. So even if an immigrant has become a British citizen, they are still considered - by the Mail - a 'foreigner'. Indeed, even those born to British parents abroad would be classed as 'foreigners'.

From Full Fact:

The figures for 2009 show that while 3.7 million jobs were held by non-UK born workers, only 2.3 million jobs were held by non-British citizens.

From this we can deduce that almost 40 per cent of those listed as 'foreign born' in the Spectator tables and described by the Mail as 'immigrants' are in possession of a British passport.

4. In total, the figures show 'British-born' people had 23.96m of the total 27.49m jobs - which is 87%.

Since 1997, employment among UK-born and UK residents has risen. The employment rate for people born in the UK is the same as 1997, for UK citizens it has decreased by 0.1%. This is hardly a 'betrayal' of British workers, as the Mail's front page claims.

5. In attempting to back up his claims that '99%' of new jobs had been accounted for by immigration, Fraser Nelson points to a 2007 document from the Statistics Commission which he says is 'helpful'.

Indeed it is, because it says:

The actual proportion of the employment increase accounted for by foreigners/migrants ranges from just over 50% when looking at foreign nationals and the 16+ age group to just over 80% when looking at country of birth and excluding workers who are over state pension age.

So not 99%? Or 98.5%? Or 92%? Even allowing for the fact that that document is just over a year old, there's no way it's changed that much in that time.

That same document also points out the vast differences between 'foreign-born' and 'foreign nationals':

over one third of those born abroad and in UK employment in 2007 were UK nationals rather than foreign nationals.

The Mail has tried this before, when it refused to consider second or third generation immigrants - who were born in Britain and lived here their whole life - as British.

So when the Mail refers to 'foreign workers' and the Express to 'overseas workers', it's a deliberately misleading description.

Nelson says:

My point here is not that nasty immigrants have taken all our jobs.

Unfortunately, using his figures, that is exactly the point the Mail and Express have tried to make.

And there will no doubt be much more of that to come in the run up to polling day.


  1. I wonder what category they'd put me in. I'm a Brit but was living in Ireland, and returned to the UK to take up a job.
    So do they count me as an immigrant? After all, I did come from outside the country and took a job that someone else could have had...

  2. maybe there should be more concern for british born unemployed people. sorry that would be racist i do appologise.

  3. Every newspaper I have ever worked on has insisted that its readers are Conservative with a small c (never Labour with a small l or Lib Dem with a small ld). The Daily Express seems determined to become the first British newspaper to be Conservative with a small b, n and p. I wonder how many foreigners are employed as cheap labour by the Express group? The proprietor has certainly employed quite a few in his porn mags.

  4. surely even a daily mail reader would look at those stats and think - that can't be write? i mean, you just have to look at the people in your office, friendship group, family, life to see the stats are twisted.
    but then, maybe they would believe them. i don't have much faith left.

  5. As an aside - anyone else noticed how creepily identical the front pages of these two dross-rags are today? It's uncanny! The only conclusion I can draw is that the daily fail and express are about to mutate into a single, genetically modified hybrid that survives by sucking compassion and rationality from the world.

  6. P.S. @ anonymous: why does it matter where someone was born? I thought unemployment pretty much cuts the same wherever your Mother's waters happened to break - or am I being naive here?

  7. Coming late to the party, I know, and I'm sorry, but I have to take issue with point 3 - being foreign-born as an indicator of immigrant status. While I haven't seen the article (couldn't face it) and don't know in what terms they framed it (by nationality or birth), according to the UN recommendations on statistics (see url), being outside your country of birth for more than a year is enough to make you an immigrant, in the absence of a better way to measure this phenomenon. The only way you stop being an immigrant is if you move back to your country of birth; citizenship and nationality are irrelevant for this. Now we know this causes problems and is imperfect, for some of the reasons mentioned in the above post(and a whole lot more - Russia is the world's no. 2 country of destination for migrants largely because Russians living in other Soviet Republics moved to Russia after the USSR collapsed, making them "foreign-born" even though, when they were born, it was one country; while Russians who moved to other republics found themselves immigrants when they became independent). But for what it's worth, if they call the foreign-born immigrants, technically they're not wrong.

    Sorry, I'm a migration nerd, and this is meant to help, not be too critical. I can't argue with your other points, and (by extenstion of what I mentioned above) you're right, by considering the second/third generations as immigrants, they're stretching the word "immigrant" beyond where it should go!

  8. RT - Many thanks for the comment. I have slightly amended the first sentence to number three to make my point more clearly. It was more about the Mail using 'foreigner' in its sub-head to describe people who are born abroad. So even immigrants who have become UK citizens aren't quite 'one of us', in their eyes - much like their view of second and third generation immigrants.

  9. MacGuffin: thanks for making the change, I have to correct myself slightly! The definition of "migrant" as living outside one's country of birth is actually used by the UN Population Division for its global migrant stock database ( rather than the UN Recommendations, which rather relate to "country of usual residence". Oopsie on my part, but it's still not totally illegitimate if you're talking about country of birth to call a foreign-born person an "immigrant".

    You're right, however, that if you're looking at job figures for British citizens, then citizenship, not place of birh, is all that matters. Sorry for any confusion!


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