Immigration minister's figures don't add up
BLOG UPDATE: Here is the link from Phil Woolas to the Home Office Migration Paper page, to the unredacted documents he referred to on a previous appearance on the Daily Politics.
Thursday's exchange on the Daily Politics with Home Office Minister Phil Woolas has generated some controversy so, in the calm of the aftermath, I have looked again at his response.
Using figures from the Labour Force Survey compiled by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) I put to him a finding from the latest survey available (Q3, 2009): that employment among those of working age (16-64) has risen by almost 1.7m since 1997 (what politicians like to describe as 1.7m extra jobs "created" -- the exact figure for the rise in employment is 1.67m); but that the number of foreign-born workers in the labour force has increased by over 1.64m.
This doesn't mean that all the additional jobs have gone to the foreign-born; but it does mean that the rise in employment among the indigenous population (of all races, colours and creeds) since 1997 has been de minimus, since the rise in overall employment has almost been matched by an increase in the foreign-born labour force. So it is hard to argue that the rise in employment since 1997 has meant, to coin a phrase, "British jobs for British workers".
This was the Minister's reply to the Survey figures:
That's not what they say. What they say is there have been 1.67million immigrant workers - immigrant workers are temporary workers - so what you're doing is conflating temporary workers, the total over 13 years, with permanent workers, and because it's similar to the new jobs created, you are taking a false logical step.
This is an old trick that has been played in every election since 1964. And what it is saying is that the number of temporary immigrant workers is the same as the total number of new jobs. That is logically not true. It cannot be arithmetically true. It's like saying that 50,000 people go to watch Arsenal every match, there have been ten matches; therefore 500,000 people have been. In fact, it may be that the same 50,000 people have. And that is the statistical trick that is being pulled on you.'
I must confess that I didn't fully understand this refutation at the time. But I've now had a chance to study the transcript and to read the statistical explanatory note which goes with the ONS survey. Here are the facts:
1. The ONS Labour Force Survey is a snapshot of the British Labour force at any one time: it is not cumulative (as the minister suggests with his Arsenal analogy) but a survey of the size of British employment and its composition at one particular time, taken every three months.
2. It does not distinguish between immigrants and non-immigrants nor temporary or permanent workers. It simply establishes if you are working in Britain at the time of the snapshot and, among other things, asks if you are foreign or British born. This question -- and the definition of foreign-born -- is laid down by Eurostat, on whose behalf the Survey is down. Brussels controls the definitions and parameters so that it can make like-for-like comparisons across the EU.
3. Though, contrary to the minister's claims, the Survey does not distinguish between immigrant or temporary workers, its rules would tend not to count temporary foreign-born workers. The Statistical note explains: this Survey "is a Survey of private households and excludes people in communal establishments (eg hostels, students living in halls of residence) and people who have lived in the UK for less than six months. Arguably the excluded groups are likely to include disproportionately large numbers of migrants. It would be reasonable to infer from this that estimates of migrant/foreign worker numbers based on the LFS may be a little lower than they should be." (My italics)
4. Let's just pause to reflect what that means: temporary migrants tend to live in communal residencies and many might be here for less than six months. So the Survey is almost certainly an underestimate of the number of foreign-born workers in the British labour force at any one time.
5. Just to be clear, there is no double-counting: to return to the Minister's analogy, the Survey would not pick up the cumulative numbers at an Arsenal game over time -- just the crowd at the particular Arsenal game when the Survey was taken.
6. The number of foreign-born workers in the British labour force has doubled since 1997 (from 1.5m to 2.8m). It is true that foreign-born could apply to the offspring of expats whose children were born abroad, who are now of working age and who have returned to these shores. It even applies to Boris Johnson (who was born in America). But there is no evidence of a massive return of expats since 1997 (indeed the momentum has been the other way). Though the Survey is not directly concerned with immigration it is hard not to conclude that the huge rise of foreign-born in the labour force is directly related to the huge rise in immigration since 1997. If there's another explanation I'd be grateful for it.
Now there are many possible official responses to these figures. Ministers could argue that it is a good thing that foreign workers have come here to do jobs which British-born folk have shunned. They could also point out that there are hundreds of thousands of Brits working and living abroad and that national labour forces are a two-way street in the age of globalisation. What does not look credible is Mr Woolas's explanation on yesterday's show. It would appear to be factually wrong and doesn't stack up. He needs to explain why it was right -- or come up with another one. We'll be sending this note to him.