A Home Affairs Editor who could have been refused a job

I've always liked Steven Poole's Unspeak. I'd have liked to have done something similar, but I am neither as clear a writer nor as clever a dude.

I was reminded of Unspeak when I saw James Slack's 'British jobs for migrant workers: Figures ridicule Labour's employment pledge' in yesterday's Mail. (If that headline looks familiar, it's probably because you saw the almost identical 'British jobs for foreign workers: Experts reveal 70% of new jobs taken by migrants' at the top of Slack's similar story last July).

We now seem to have a new term to describe people who were born outside the EU who come to work in the UK. The article opens:
More than 1.1million jobs - half the total created under Labour - were taken by immigrants who could have been refused work permits, it emerged last night.
'Immigrants who could have been refused work permits'. How remiss of the government not to refuse them, since it could have.

What an ugly little shift in emphasis. Every person who has come to work in the UK from outside the EU is now someone who could have been turned away, a phrase that implies that every last one of them is surplus to requirements.

This is, of course, the impression Slack is striving for in this article, with his focusing on how many 'British' people were out of work and left the job market in this period. Of course, he doesn't say how many filled jobs we in the UK have a shortage of qualified people for, or how many of 'the number of Britons in employment' which 'tumbled by more than 400,000' left the job market because of retirement, but he does give us a nifty little figure to show how much the UK born share of the total number of people in employment has dropped.

As those of you who have ever read most of the stuff I've ever written about James Slack will probably be suspecting right about now, he's left out one (well, at least one) very important detail.

In Jan-Mar 1997 (from August 2008's Quarterly LFS survey Migrant Worker estimates), 73.1% of the UK born population was in work. What's figure after a recession and all these people who could have been turned away were 'handed out' wortk permits? In Jan-Mar 2010 (according to May 2010's Labour Market Statistics), it was 72.7%. That's a drop of 0.4%. The margin of error in these calculations is - wait for it - 0.4%. This change is completely statistically insignificant. Which is, of course, why the article focuses only on the drop in the total number of UK born people in work and the percentage of the total number people in work the UK born represent.

Slack has also used his old tricks of pretending something old (the availability of data outlining how much of the workforce comes from outside the EU) is a shocking new revelation, referring to 'House of Commons Library research' as if the Commons Library did anything other than look at pre-existing ONS figures and acting as though something Gordon Brown said in 2007 couldhave affected anything happening for a decade previously. And that's on top of offering a strawman definition of what Brown's already horrible 'British jobs for British workers' speech actually meant.

Along with the cherry picking of data and presenting it in a misleading way, this is pretty standard Daily Mail territory.

But something about adding the new 'immigrants who could have been refused work permits' definition of people who may be doing vital work makes my skin crawl.

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