September 29, 2011 • 2:59 pm

“Migrants more likely to claim unemployment benefits” The Daily Express, 29 September 2011

The Government’s decision to this week make available previously unpublished research on the social and economic impacts of immigration has predictably resulted in some eye-catching headlines.

In his Telegraph column on Monday, London Mayor Boris Johnson accused the Left of “rewriting history” on immigration, after one report showed that inward migration from Eastern Europe was expected to be much higher than was officially estimated.

Today the Express takes a different tack, arguing that “migrants to the UK are more likely to be claiming unemployment benefits than the native population.”

Using one of the recently-released reports on the impact of A2 migration (which covers Bulgaria and Romania), the paper writes that it “showed that while just over 3.7 per cent of the local population claimed jobless payments, 5.7 per cent of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria took the handouts along with 5.3 per cent of migrants from outside the EU and 3.7 percent of eastern Europeans who joined the EU in 2004.”

Looking at the report itself, it is easy to see where these figures come from. Table 7 gives the following information on benefit claims by UK nationals and immigrants:

While this may seem to support the Express’s interpretation, on closer inspection the claim begins to unravel.

The table doesn’t actually show the proportion of migrants claiming a given benefit, but the proportion of benefit claimants from different backgrounds claiming a given benefit. (i.e. If you sum up each column in the table, it will add up to 100, allowing for the effects of rounding.)

This is important, as both the report and the Express acknowledge that there is a “relatively small pool” of benefit claimants from the A2 and A8 group of migrants compared to the ‘native’ population.

As the report explains: “Of the relatively small pool of A2 and A8 migrants who claim benefits, the share of A2 migrants claiming unemployment benefits is higher compared to other migrant groups.”

According to the report, in a representative group of 100 individuals, around 40 would have claimed some form of social benefit among UK nationals, compared to 15 from the A2 group of countries, 23 from the A8 group, and 39 from elsewhere.

Using these baselines, we can use the information given in part 2 of the table to work out that around 1.48 per cent of UK nationals claimed unemployment benefits between 2004 and 2009, compared to 0.86 per cent among A2 immigrants, 0.85 among A8 immigrants and 2.07 per cent among other immigrants.

So are more migrants more likely to claim unemployment benefits, as the Express claims? Well if we take the mean of the three migrant groups given, we can see that an average of 1.26 per cent of migrants claim unemployment benefits: a smaller share than among the ‘native’ population.

However whether we should be making these comparisons at all is very doubtful.

Above the relevant table, the report’s authors have thought it important enough to place the following warning in bold:

“The results relating to A2 and A8 migrants in Table 7 below should be treated with particular caution due to low sample size amongst this group especially when looking at the propensity to claim particular types of benefits from what is an already small pool of migrant benefit claimants.”

In composing the headline that it did, the Express has therefore not only used the data provided in the report inaccurately, but seems to have gone against the explicit guidance issued by its authors.

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