Are half of council homes given to migrants?
"Migrationwatch found 45% of social housing in Ealing, west London, is occupied by unemployed foreigners".
Daily Star, 16 April 2012
"Revealed: How HALF of all social housing in England goes to people born abroad"
Daily Mail, 15 April 2012 [since changed]
Daily Mail, 16 April 2012
This morning the Daily Mail and Daily Star reported figures from Migration Watch UK on the proportion of social housing going to people born abroad. They both initially claimed that half of council homes are given to migrants, although the Daily Mail later changed its headline to read at the end: "in parts of England".
Headlines like these will raise eyebrows, especially as the local elections loom. The two newspapers have bold titles, but are they based on fact or fiction?
One impression that should not be taken from the articles is that foreign nationals get the lion's share of social housing in general. In fact, later on in the Mail article it quotes figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), showing that:
"in 2010/11 8.6 per cent of new social housing tenants were foreign".
In fairness to the Mail and the Star, they add the qualifier within their pieces that the half of social housing figure only applies to "parts of" the country, but the Star's current and Mail's former headlines distort the picture. Full Fact is pleased the Mail have amended their initial copy.
The journalists based their stories on detailed research from Migration Watch UK, who describe themselves as:
"an independent, voluntary, non political body which is concerned about the present scale of immigration into the UK".
They based their work on data from 'The Continuous Recording of Sales and Letting' (CORE), an information agency which collects data on housing tenants, funded by the DCLG. Not all of CORE's data was available, as Migration Watch discovered by sending Freedom of Information requests to all London boroughs asking:
"How many applicants for social housing to [borough] were allocated social housing in the financial year 2010/11?"
Migration Watch listed their findings for both Inner and Outer London lets. Inner London lets:
Outer London lets:
The findings show that, in Haringey and Ealing, the proportion of lets measured by CORE to foreign nationals is 43 and 45 per cent respecitvely. This is the newspapers' 'half of social housing in some parts of the country', a generous rounding up to say the least. Migration Watch refer to these as "nearly half" which is more precise.
However, Migration Watch also acknowledge discrepanices in the CORE data compared to the actual number of lets taking place. They state:
"The proportion of social housing lets in London covered by the CORE data varies according to the borough. Some boroughs had almost all relevant social housing lets recorded in the CORE data while others only recorded a minority."
Migration Watch only show a list of missing data on 14 boroughs, rather than the full 32. Within these 14 boroughs there is 27 per cent of data missing on average. For instance, CORE had 60 per cent of data missing on the borough of Newham.
One of the other boroughs which has a poor CORE coverage is Haringey, with only 66 per cent of total Local Authority lets covered by the CORE data. The 43 per cent figure for Haringey does not represent 43 per cent of the borough, but 43 per cent of the data in CORE. So the actual figure for foreign nationals letting could be higher or lower than this in reality.
The data coverage for Ealing is not shown by the research. The Daily Star did, however, refer to the 45 per cent as "unemployed" foreigners. However in the research there is absolutely no mention of their employment status, so it is unclear as to where the Star got its "unemployed foreigners" claim from.
Based on the research, the claims from the newspapers that half of social housing in some parts of the country come from findings showing that in two parts of London the proportion of such housing being let to foreign nationals are 45 and 43 per cent. These findings are in themsleves based on CORE data that is not comprehensive, at least in the borough of Haringey.
None of these figures should serve to obscure the fact that, across England as a whole, 8.6 per cent of new social housing tenants were foreign. In addition, the data shown for London indicates that Ealing and Haringey are considerable outliers.
So the basis for claiming "half" of social housing in some parts of the country goes to foreign nationals is weakened by rounding, incomprehensive data, a small number of areas actually showing this and the fact that they are clear outliers compared to the rest of their region.
The basis for simply stating that "half" of all social housing in England goes to foreign nationals is unfounded.