Immigration scare stories are ten a penny in the Mail and the Express. Scares about how many foreign workers there are in the country and ones about how British citizens are leaving in droves are so common I'm sick of writing about them. The only thing as predictable as their appearance is the depressing inevitability of MigrationWatch playing a part somewhere along the line.
The week before last, both papers led with stories that combined all three - with an interesting twist in the Mail. The paper usually tries to shock us with figures that show how the number of British citizens leaving the country is way too high. Last week, it enraged us all with complaints that the number of British workers abroad are too low, in three stories based on the same figures.
'Foreign workers double to 3.8m under Labour - and majority are from OUTSIDE the EU' carried the torch from the front page headline, 'Europe's one-way trade in jobs sees more than 1m EU workers head to UK' went into more detail about the figures included in a table from the first article and 'MAIL COMMENT: The one-way traffic in British jobs', a comment piece that included the same phrase as what was supposed to be dispassionate reportage.
The figures the outrage is based on come, as ever, from MigrationWatch. This time, MigrationWatch have got hold of figures from Eurostat, a body that collects and compiles statistics from every European country's equivalent of the ONS, in order to show how outrageously one sided EU migration is. Of course, as you'd expect an honest study to do, this briefing took EU and UK figures from Eurostat and compared the same countries for the same period so that we get a nice, accurate result.
No it didn't. You knew that was coming, right?
I headed over to the Eurostat website to try to reproduce MigrationWatch's results from the mass of data available there. I couldn't, because these figures aren't there. Eurostat emailed me the relevant stats, which come from each country's ONS equivalent of the Labour Force Survey. There are problems with the data.
Because some figures are so low, Eurostat flags them as being either too unreliable to publish, or reliable to publish only alongside disclaimers about their unreliability. The following countries' numbers are too unreliable for publication:
The following are only reliable enough to publish if disclaimers about how unreliable they are appear alongside them:
The figures from exactly half the countries in MigrationWatch's briefing were either too unreliable to publish or needed to be published beside disclaimers. They were all published with no disclaimers, and all ended up centr stage in the Daily Mail. Super.
The figures that are apparently reliable could be suspect too. In the paper's last attempt to frighten us with the number of white people leaving the country, we were given the figure of 761,000 for UK born people living in Spain. This new set of figures show that only 41,800 of them work. That would mean that only about 5.5% of British born people living in Spain actually work and pay taxes. And we're supposed to believe that Britain is losing out somehow in some sort of one way migration dealie here.
The bigger numbers come from a study carried out by the IPPR and the BBC back in Decmber 2006, which was designed to find out how many British born people live abroad.
Because (as is well known by regulars) I am a plank, I added together the total number of people living full time in each of the countries in MigrationWatch's study. The total comes to 1,636,950. Using MigrationWatch's figures for the number of Brits working in the EU, that works out at an employment rate of around just 18%. Imagine the outcry if less than a fifth of foreigners worked and paid taxes in the UK. Imagine that, eh?
Sorry. I appear to have reached that point in a post where looking at statistics is beginning to mix up my brain. You'll have to forgive me - every minute I spend looking at stats is a minute I'm not spending watching Steven Segal bend some poor sap's arm up the wrong way and the internets have fried my attention span. The long and the short of these figures is that half of them were too unreliable to be published, but they were published anyway - and even if they can be relied on they point toward a shockingly low level of employment among UK ex-pats in the EU of the sort that would spark outraged headlines if it were reversed. Except it isn't reversed and we still get outraged headlines. In a few weeks, the papers will forget all about these figures and start complaining that too many people are leaving the country again.
Okay, I managed to keep it together for long enough to get to the end of this post. I have some sympathy with MigrationWatch getting towards the ends of studies and then just losing it seeming to make stuff up, but then I'm just some bloke with a blog and I'm not promoting myself as a serious think-tank made up of statistical experts. Maybe MigrationWatch are Steven Segal fans as well and that explains some of it. It probably goes something like this in the MigrationWatch house:
Professor David Coleman: Quick, quick, Andy! You're gonna miss it!
Sir Andrew Green: Sorry Dave, just gotta check whether these figures are reliable.
Prof Coleman: But quick - he's about to chuck the Jamaican drug dealer through a window!
Sir Andrew: Ah - sod it. Coming Dave!
**UPDATE** I've changed the sections that refer to British born people living in Spain. Originally, I'd flagged them as UK citizens in error. They're not. There is a difference, and even though MigrationWatch and the Daily Mail pretend there isn't, it doesn't mean I have to.
Must've been the Segal withdrawal symptoms.