UK Politics

Ministers accuse Labour of immigration 'cover-up'

Fruit picker in Northumberland
Image caption One report suggested that migration had driven down wages for lower-paid British workers

Immigration under Labour had a "negative impact" on the wages of the worst paid British workers.

That was the headline from one of ten research reports released by the Department for Communities and Local Government on Tuesday.

There are more reports, and stories, like that to come.

A government source says ministers found more than 100 unpublished research papers at that department alone after the election.

The local government minister Grant Shapps has accused the previous government of a cover-up.

"Labour ministers spent over £100,000 of taxpayers' money on research reports into immigration and when they didn't like the results they tried to brush it all under the carpet," he said.

'Too sensitive'

His boss, the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, made a similar allegation when the department published another report on immigration in July, describing it as a "skeleton in the closet".

It was deemed too sensitive for publication under Labour, a government source has said.

But a spokesman for the shadow Business Secretary John Denham - who was Labour's Communities Secretary before the election - said: "We welcome the publication of these reports, but the government's claim that they were all blocked is ludicrous; if this was correct why has it taken so long for this government to publish them?"

The most recently published paper - on international migration and rural economies - certainly contains details that would have done the last government few favours.

It says migration resulted in "a negative impact on the wages of UK workers at the bottom of the occupational distribution".

Among those who might agree with this now is the Labour leader Ed Miliband. In a recent speech he said economic migration had increased the pressure faced by those in lower skilled work, and there was pressure on wages.

It would have been much more difficult for Labour to concede those points in those terms before the election.

More nuanced

But look closer at studies like these and the details are more nuanced than the headlines suggest.

The rural economy paper says it is unlikely migration has had a significant impact on the wages of British workers across the UK as a whole, that national studies have not found evidence of a link between increased immigration and displaced UK staff, and that migrants are predominantly competing with each other for work, rather than UK nationals.

The current government suggests that not only did Labour keep back the results of research that did not suit its narrative, but that it wasted money in the process. The ten reports published most recently cost taxpayers £219,597.

In a ministerial statement, the Department for Communities said it was releasing them "in the interests of transparency", and that the government will make sure its future research provides the best possible value for money for the taxpayer.

Many in Whitehall, though, are fond of studies like these, which they feel provide the evidence needed to help make their policies and their arguments.

The current flurry of publications from Mr Pickles and his ministers may place them under greater pressure to make public their own studies in the future - whether the findings are politically convenient or not.

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