Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Fun with figures in the Express

Today's latest bag of immigration crap from the Express is £200M BENEFITS BILL AS OUT-OF-WORK POLES FLOOD BACK. I say 'latest'; the £200m benefits figure, and indeed the entire premise of this story, might sound familiar to those of you who read a strikingly similar piece by Nick Fagge at the start of this year. According to journlisted, Fagge published a story which began "THOUSANDS of Eastern European migrants who lose their jobs plan to ride out the recession on British 
benefits – costing taxpayers around £200million a year" on January 8th this year, however the link it gives is now dead.

Helpfully, you can Google a bit of that to find the article pasted on a truckers' forum here. The phrase "THOUSANDS of Eastern European migrants who lose their jobs plan to ride out the recession on British 
benefits" is repeated wholesale in the new article, which claims "Last month the Daily Express revealed how thousands of ­Eastern European migrants who lose their jobs plan to ride out the recession on British benefits".

Here's another similarity. Fagge's January article said:

The average family with children can claim around £715 a week in benefits in Britain, compared with just £178 in countries such as Poland.

...that latter figure seems to have been 'sexed down' in Martyn Brown's new version:

A family of four immigrants can pocket an average in benefits of £715-a-week in Britain, compared to £125 in Poland.
Evidently a rapid decline in Polish benefits in the last couple of months!

The £200m figure is particularly interesting. It seems to have been extrapolated from a previous figure of £125m. The closest we get to a source for these figures is this line casually tossed in at the end:

In August 2007 there were 112,000 Eastern Europeans claiming £125million a year. That is now expected to soar to £200million.
So what we have here is an unsourced guess which seems to be based on an estimate of how many Poles will lose their jobs but stay here. Already the figures look rather shaky, but where does the £125m a year come from? As far as I can make out, it's the same £125m figure James Slack was using in the Mail. Well, as 5cc covered last August, that figure seems to be something of a mess itself. In brief, it's estimated from some figures in an official Home Office report (pdf) that covered a three-year period, on the apparent assumption that everyone in those three years claimed their entire benefit all the time. The £125m figure is completely unverifiable; Slack has conjured them up from his table, but they're based largely on guesswork. The figures he uses for the numbers of Eastern Europeans claiming benefits are the total number of applications received in a three-year period, with no indication of how many of those might have stopped receiving them or how he's arrived at a specific total from decidedly less specific original figures.

I tried to work out how he got to £125m a year, but using the figures in the table, the closest I could get was around £111m a year, and that was based on an absolute maximum whereby every one of those applicants claimed the total benefit they were entitled to for the full three years in the report (something we know not to be true, since the figures break down year-by-year showing that only a fraction of the applications in the period concerned were approved in 2004 and 2005, with the majority only beginning to claim in 2006-7, where the report concludes, meaning most had been claiming for less than half that period).

Trying to work out these figures is a bit of a wild goose chase though, so let's step back and look at the bigger picture; what does this £200m a year in 'benefits' include? The word 'benefits' instantly conjures up dole money and people faking it on the sick, but when the word 'benefits' is applied to immigrants, it covers a multitude of things, the most ludicrous of which are tax credits and child benefits. In both those cases, you have to be working and therefore paying tax to receive them. Child benefit is a tiny rebate of the tax and average working person would pay, and tax credits again are simply rebates for people working and paying tax. They have nothing to do with what the Express wants you to imagine, which is scrounging Poles on the dole. And yet these will comprise a huge proportion of the "£200m a year benefits" figure. The whole premise of the article is misleading; £200m 'benefits' a year doesn't mean a great deal if they're benefits paid to working people, because working people contribute more to the country in tax than they get in child benefit, tax credits, pensions and all the other miscellaneous shit the Express is including in its made-up total.

As another example of how wacky these figures are, we get this:

Up to 200,000 Poles are set to flood back here as they become disillusioned by the reality of the economic downturn back home.
So where does the '200,000 Poles set to flood back' idea come from? Oh, right, here:

Nearly half of Britain’s 450,000 Polish workers were expected to leave as businesses were struck by the credit crunch last year.
And here:

Up to 200,000 migrant workers are set to lose their jobs this year.
If this is saying what I think it is, 200,000 migrants are going to lose their jobs. All of them will go home to Poland, and then all of them will come (or 'flood', if you prefer) back to the UK. Amazingly, despite having lost their jobs, they will return here and get jobs, because having jobs is the only possible way they could receive anything like £200m a year in benefits. Ever get the feeling that these figures are based on so many separate guesses that they're utterly meaningless?

But even if these figures were accurate, is there any point to them, beyond pointing the finger at immigrants in these economically-troubled times? Expect more nonsense in the coming weeks and months about how the Poles are getting it all nice easy while the hardworking British man gets shafted.


  1. My understanding is that journalists are meant to retain original notes that they make when writing a story. Sometimes I suspect that with the Express if you asked to see them you would find a bunch of beer mats and fag packets with scribbles on them.