Various papers have picked up on the latest migration statistics which were published by the ONS yesterday. Most of the attention has focused on the overall numbers of people deciding to settle in the UK for over a year, or are choosing to leave these shores to head for sunnier climes.
In many ways however they are missing the point, because - as Mervyn King argued the other day - the figures are pretty unreliable. They generally underestimate the numbers and are based purely on surveys of people entering and leaving the country in airports, ports and the tunnel. As the ONS admit themselves the numbers should be seen only as a rough guide.
They do however provide an interesting indicator of the trends of immigration. Someone in the office has noticed that of the 80,000 immigrants from Eastern Europe who said they intended to stay for more than a year in the UK, 40% of them were not intending to find a job here. This is the first time we have seen statistics which contradict the assertions made by the Government, the IPPR and others that "Eastern European arrivals continue to be young, single people wanting to work temporarily in the UK." The Government's system for collecting figures - the Worker Registration Scheme - only captures data on people as they arrive, not connecting them with the subsequent arrival of dependents.
If we're honest - one of the main reasons that there has been such a public backlash against Eastern European migration is that people feel like the Government has not been straight with them and that is doesn’t have a "grip" on the process. The classic example being that they were told that only 5-13,000 would come from the A8 when the Government's own figures show that the numbers are at least 30 times that.
As we explained recently, on the one hand, the Government's figures are likely to significantly understate the number of migrants that have arrived here from Eastern Europe. They only calculate the number of people that have registered on the Workers Registration Scheme, and do not count the numbers of self-employed migrants, and those who are not looking for work.
Ministers have claimed that the true number is more like 600,000, once the self employed are taken into account. If, for argument's sake, we take them at their word and simply add on the 40% who say they are not looking for work, the total number of people that have come here from Eastern Europe will be around the 1 million mark.
On the other hand, it has to be remembered that no one is counting the number of people leaving the country. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many Eastern European workers tend to come for a couple of months, mainly in the summer, work as many hours as possible, and go back home having saved up a decent pile of cash, planning to return the next year. These people could have been included 2 or 3 times in the statistics but only spent a few months in the UK.
In other words, no one really has a clue how many migrants have come and actually stayed in the UK - that's why we need embarkation controls (which Labour abolished and are now going to reintroduce in 2012) to count the number of people in and out of the country. Only then can local services be given adequate funding to cope with the extra demand. But the Government are sitting on their hands waiting for the EU "e-borders" biometric scheme to come into effect. Does anyone else see a giant public sector I.T. disaster in the making?
On the subject of porkies - we noticed another interesting claim from the Government a couple of weeks ago. They told Parliament that only 1% of Eastern European workers have claimed benefits since they arrived in the UK. But their own statistics show that the figure is more like 10%.
Before the last enlargement in 2004 David Blunkett insisted that the Government would put in place a system which would mean that migrants would not be able to come to the UK to claim benefits. He said, "If people want to come and work in Britain openly and legally, that is right. If they want to come and claim our benefits, that is wrong". Spot on.
But Immigration Minister Liam Byrne admitted to one of our team just the other week that the Government has no plans to restrict access to non-contributory benefits like child benefit and tax credits for Bulgarians and Romanians when they join the EU next year.
In our opinion, unless the Government changes its ways and begins to approach the immigration debate honestly, and provides statistics that tell the full picture, it can expect the current hysteria over EU migrants to continue, endlessly.