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Wednesday, May 23, 2007 

Taking our women, jobs and benefits!

Last night, faced with the latest statistics that showed that immigration from the eastern European countries which joined the EU in 2004 has likely peaked, I wondered just how the tabloids were going to be able to spin the figures into showing that the Poles etc and now the Romanians and Bulgarians are still flooding in. Rather than making a big thing of them as usual, would they simply drop them back onto page 94? Would they blatantly lie, as the Mail has previously done? Or would they come up with a new statistic to be outraged about?

They decided upon the latter. The Express, in full crusader battle cry, screams 92,000 EASTERN EUROPEANS MILK OUR BENEFITS. For once, they're telling the truth but as usual they're being wholly disingenuous. What the Express (and the Mail) have done is taken all the number of benefits claims made by migrants, for jobseeker's allowance, income support, state pension credit, child benefit and tax credits, and added them all together. The Mail has kindly provided the table below which shows what's being claimed and what it isn't.

As you can see, the numbers claiming benefits for being out of work are still so minuscule as to be almost entirely negligible. The Express and Mail have instead thrown their toys out of the pram about the numbers claiming child benefit and tax credits, which on the surface do look large, leading the papers to claim that this is adding up to around £100m in benefits going to migrants. What neither paper bothers to tell you though is that the accession statistics (PDF) also tell you how many national insurance numbers have been allocated since 2004 for employment purposes, through which they'll be paying tax. These stand at 610,751. That means that over 500,000 migrants are taking nothing out while putting far, far more back in than the others are claiming back. And anyway, why shouldn't those 90,000 migrants that are paying tax just the same as the rest of us are not be allowed to claim the same benefits that we're entitled to?

Both papers, trying desperately to keep their readers believing that nothing has changed, quote "Sir" Andrew Green of Migration Watch:

"These figures confirm that massive levels of immigration from Eastern Europe continue un­abated. It is even more vital to reduce immigration from the rest of the world if our public services are to be able to cope."

Really? Here's the applicants by quarter of application from January 2005 to March 2007:

As the graph shows, the numbers applying to come here from the countries which joined the EU in 2004 for was in actual fact at one of its lowest levels in the last two years last quarter. It's true that the numbers might yet go up in the next two quarters, with students and others coming here in the summer months mainly to help in the agriculture sector, but otherwise the figures look to be broadly in line with what's been the case since 2004. Nowhere in either of the Mail or Express articles is the very legitimate point made that many of those who have come here since 2004 will have long returned home; both prefer to perpetuate the myth that the 630,000 that have registered since then are all still here. Even that isn't good enough for the Mail, which adds the following qualifier:

But officials admit this could be the tip of the iceberg, as the figures do not include the self-employed, spouses, children or those who do not bother to register.

The Express, always trying to out do the Mail, even pulls a figure out of its ass to make the same point:

But the figure is likely to be closer to 840,000 once the self-employed are included.

Strangely, neither the Mail or Express dwells long on the number that have applied to come here from Bulgaria and Romania (PDF with statistics in full here.). The Mail instead focuses bizarrely on the fact that some have specified that they're "circus artistes", something which FCC goes into further detail on. The Express does much the same. Could this possibly be something to do with the fact that, as the Guardian reports, Migration Watch confidently predicted, with the Express and Mail repeating the claim, that 300,000 Romanians and Bulgarians would come here within 20 months? If the numbers continue at around the current rate, it will be much closer to 60,000, and seeing as the government has pledged to limit numbers to 20,000 a year, it's unlikely to even be that high. As for the Scum, which recklessly scaremongered and lied last year about Romanians and Bulgarians bringing HIV/AIDS with them, for which it was reprimanded by the PCC, it either printed yesterday's online report in today's paper or simply didn't bother.

The tactics of the Mail and Express are, much like Blair, to obfuscate rather than tell the truth. When reporting the actuality means contradicting their own prejudices and potentially informing their readers that the sky isn't about to fall in, they instead have to shift the truth around a bit. When the government does this, it's rightly called spin, and confidence in politicians has plummeted as a result. The difference is that the right-wing tabloids do this every day, and while public confidence in them is also low, they still have the same impact on government policy and on the public mindset that they've always had, and unlike our politicians, we can't vote these bastards out.

Update: Madeleine Bunting, in one of her rare decent pieces, makes much the same points.

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