How to create a Telegraph migration scare story


Matt Cavanagh is the Associate Director for UK Migration Policy at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)

Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph deployed the familiar combination of Andrew Green from Migration Watch and a controversialist, self-publicist Tory MP – on this occasion Dominic Raab – to stoke fear of an “EU crime wave”.

Dominic-RaabThe key claims are:

• That crimes by EU migrants have trebled in three years;

• That this is the fault of lax immigration controls by the previous Labour government; and

• That “EU rules and human rights laws” are preventing the present government from deporting these criminals.

Raab talks about:

“…the staggering increase in crimes committed by EU nationals.”

Reacting to Raab’s figures (taken from a Parliamentary answer), Green manages to pack in the adjectives “extraordinary”, “remarkable”, “astonishing”, and “astounding” in the space of three short sentences.

As usual, neither Raab nor Green nor the Telegraph make any attempt to put the figures in context, for example by comparing the incidence of crime committed by EU migrants with the incidence of crime committed by the population as a whole – or rather, the incidence of convictions, since that is what the figures refer to.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were 2.1 million EU migrants (by birth) resident in England and Wales in 2010 (table 1.1, xls). Using Raab’s figure of 27,000 convictions, that equates to one conviction per 78 EU migrants.

By comparison, the number of notifiable convictions (p. 2, pdf) for England and Wales as a whole – 750,000 for a total population of 54.5 million – equates to one conviction per 73 people. In other words, the rate of crime committed by EU migrants (as measured by these figures) is lower than in the population as a whole.

When I spoke to the Home Office press office yesterday, they thought the comparable figures might be all convictions, rather than notifiable convictions. I am sceptical about that, but if they are right, it would strengthen my argument rather than weakening it: it would change the incidence for the population of England and Wales as a whole to 1 in 29 people.

In other words, EU migrants would be even less likely to be convicted for a crime, compared to the average.

That is not to say there is nothing in the figures worthy of comment.

First, it is true that convictions of EU migrants rose between 2007 and 2010 – against a background of falling crime, which the Telegraph and Raab gloss over – and also that convictions of EU migrants rose faster than the number of migrants: convictions rose by 170% (from 10,000 to 27,000) while the population of EU migrants rose by 21% (based on ONS figures).

Second, there is a particularly high incidence of convictions among some EU nationalities – for example, Romanians. Unfortunately the Telegraph obscures this in its summary that:

“Poles and Romanians were the worst offenders.”

The figures for Poles equate to 1 conviction per 78 people (again, slightly lower than the average for England and Wales), whereas the figures for Romanians equate to 1 conviction per 20 (table 1.3, xls).

Lumping Romanians together with Poles, and indeed with all EU nationalities in talking about an ‘EU crime wave’, says more about the generic eurosceptic prejudice of Raab and the Telegraph, than it does about crime rates.

Raab’s attempt to combine his euroscepticism with political point-scoring against Labour leads him into some confusion: his desire to pin the blame on Labour leads him to highlight the decision not to impose transitional controls on those countries which joined the EU in 2004; but he is forced to admit the increase in crime has come more recently, when Bulgaria and in particular Romania joined the EU, and he has to concede Labour did impose transitional controls on those countries.

This merely highlights the limited usefulness of such controls – other than as a political tool for the Conservatives, for covering up the embarrassing fact that other than this one historical disagreement, there is no difference between the two parties over EU immigration.

What about deportation? The Telegraph complains that:

“…because of EU rules on freedom of movement, only those sentenced to at least two years in prison face deportation after they complete their punishment.”

This is correct, with a few exceptions for certain types of crime. It can be argued that the bar should be set somewhat lower – I am not one of those who believe the right to free movement should be inalienable – but we should remember these rules are reciprocal, and the roughly one million British citizens resident in other EU countries would also then be subject to deportation after being convicted of lesser offences.

The links between immigration and crime should not be off-limits – but it should be obvious to any responsible participant in the debate that it must be based on evidence, rather than prejudice, or anecdote. Facts are useful, but what is needed is the whole truth, not just the truths which suit a particular political agenda.

In 2008, in response to a spate of similar stories, the Association of Chief Police Officers produced a report concluding that media fears of a crime wave from Eastern Europe were “unfounded”. Three years on, it is time for an update.

The Migration Advisory Committee has already commissioned research into the impact of immigration from outside the EU on crime. The Home Office should consider an equivalent project focusing on immigration from inside the EU. In the meantime, the media should try to avoid lazy stories aimed only at pandering to prejudices, reinforcing political or editorial lines, or raising the profile of ambitious MPs.

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