The political establishment’s poor use of evidence on immigration

Since the Eastleigh by-election immigration has consistently been in the news, with all three parties making significant policy interventions. Each party seems to be trying to outdo each other with rhetoric on how they’re going to crack down on migrants abusing public services, how immigration is out of control and how they don't believe the official estimates and forecasts.

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George Disney is a PhD Student researching methods to improve immigration estimates

Since the Eastleigh by-election immigration has consistently been in the news, with all three parties making significant policy interventions.

Each party seems to be trying to outdo each other with rhetoric on how they’re going to crack down on migrants abusing public services, how immigration is out of control and how they don’t believe the official estimates and forecasts.

However the whole debate is based on trying to meet a target – net migration – that no government could ever claim to have any control over.

On top of this the government are using official immigration statistics in a way that increases uncertainty over the level of immigration to the UK and their policy interventions are both wrongheaded and impossible to measure the success of.

It’s about time politicians started conducting the debate in a sensible manner based on good evidence and were honest about their reasons for tacking to the right in a way that risks increasing social tension and xenophobia.

In his high profile speech on immigration, the prime minister set out new restrictions on access to social housing, the NHS and welfare for new immigrants. These are the policy levers that David Cameron intends to use to meet his immigration target of “bringing down net migration to the tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands by the end of the parliament”.

However in setting this target, the government has picked a measure over which they have little to no control, and every time they use a change in this number to assert that they are “getting immigration under control” they are either misguided at best or dishonest at worst.

Let me explain why: net migration is the difference between immigration and emigration; but the government have no control whatsoever over most of this. They can’t control emigration and they can only exert influence on immigration from nationals whose citizenship is from outside the EU, due to the freedom of movement of EU nationals.

If the target is met, it could be as a result of more people leaving the UK; something that a government cannot possibly claim to have direct control over. Or it could be because less British nationals are returning to the UK after a period of living abroad.

Quite simply, a reduction (or increase) in net migration is achieved by chance rather than by design. Getting control over immigration, their explicitly stated aim, cannot be achieved when net migration is their target.

The government have consistently attacked Labour for their poor forecast of Eastern European immigrants coming to the UK following the EUs expansion in 2004. The reporting of this forecast in the newspapers and how it has been spun by politicians has eroded trust in the government about their immigration estimates.

But in their choice of net migration as their main target, the Conservatives are also increasing the level of uncertainty in official estimates of immigration. This is because immigration and emigration are both estimated using a survey, the International Passenger Survey. If they just reported immigration and emigration separately we could have more confidence in their estimates.

Finally, there is absolutely no way of knowing if the government’s tightening up of conditionality and access to public services, announced in the PM’s speech, will affect the level of immigration, let alone net immigration, and there is no way of attributing any change to yesterday’s particular policy announcements.

On top of this, it is debateable whether there are substantial migrants who are ‘abusing’ our public housing, health service or welfare system. Limiting access to the council house waiting list for new arrivals is only going to limit access to a small proportion of new arrivals, and therefore couldn’t possibly act as a deterrent to the tens of thousands of immigrants that the government wants to stay away.

Through the use of a target that the government have little control over, their poor use of the data available and the lack of evidence linking increasing conditionality over public services to a reduction in immigration and their actually being a problem of abuse, the government have just made a major policy announcement based on very bad science.

One would be forgiven for suspecting that this is not a considered policy to tackle a pressing social problem, but a political party dancing to the tune of the right-wing UK Independence Party.

24 Responses to “The political establishment’s poor use of evidence on immigration”

  1. KenBellUKIP

    Why did I dump Labour and join UKIP? It certainly wasn’t because I am a right winger. I have never had a job that was ever anything other than a source of income, nor a gaffer that I haven’t hated.

    The Tories are the party of the EU because uncontrolled immigration coupled with weak unions means low wages. Once Labour used to stand with the working man as he stood against his employer, but now the party is “relaxed about people getting filthy rich,” which is why I dumped that party.

    If you want revenge for the past thirty odd years then getting out of the EU is a start.

  2. Sparky

    Labour is the party of the foreigner and the immigrant. They couldn’t care less about white working class people. You only have to read all the pieces on here from these right-on types telling us how great immigration is, how we need more and more immigration, how every criticism of immigration is racist and wrong.

    Quite clearly there is a hidden agenda here. I suspect it’s some form of discreet social engineering in order to increase their voter base.

  3. Sparky

    Labour is the party of the foreigner and the immigrant. They couldn’t care less about white working class people. You only have to read all the pieces on here from these right-on types telling us how great immigration is, how we need more and more immigration, how every criticism of immigration is racist and wrong.

    Quite clearly there is a hidden agenda here. I suspect it’s some form of discreet social engineering in order to increase their voter base.

  4. Sparky

    Labour is the party of the foreigner and the immigrant. They couldn’t care less about white working class people. You only have to read all the pieces on here from these right-on types telling us how great immigration is, how we need more and more immigration, how every criticism of immigration is racist and wrong.

    Quite clearly there is a hidden agenda here. I suspect it’s some form of discreet social engineering in order to increase their voter base.

  5. Sparky

    Labour is the party of the foreigner and the immigrant. They couldn’t care less about white working class people. You only have to read all the pieces on here from these right-on types telling us how great immigration is, how we need more and more immigration, how every criticism of immigration is racist and wrong.

    Quite clearly there is a hidden agenda here. I suspect it’s some form of discreet social engineering in order to increase their voter base.

  6. Sparky

    Labour is the party of the foreigner and the immigrant. They couldn’t care less about white working class people. You only have to read all the pieces on here from these right-on types telling us how great immigration is, how we need more and more immigration, how every criticism of immigration is racist and wrong.

    Quite clearly there is a hidden agenda here. I suspect it’s some form of discreet social engineering in order to increase their voter base.

  7. Sparky

    Labour is the party of the foreigner and the immigrant. They couldn’t care less about white working class people. You only have to read all the pieces on here from these right-on types telling us how great immigration is, how we need more and more immigration, how every criticism of immigration is racist and wrong.

    Quite clearly there is a hidden agenda here. I suspect it’s some form of discreet social engineering in order to increase their voter base.

  8. Cole

    I thought this article was about how all the main political parties are trying to pander to anti-immigration types.

  9. Independent England

    “poor forecast of Eastern European immigrants coming to the UK following the EUs expansion in 2004”

    Migration and immigration are not the same. People who come here from Eu countries are not immigrants they are migrants. The EU’s freedom of movement of labour is designed to enable workers to move freely between EU countries in the same way that they can move freely within their own country. Immigrants however move in order to settle here.

    If you are going to write on these matters please get the basics right!

  10. George

    The ONS, administers of the official data, would class EU migrants as immigrants.

  11. George

    The ONS, administers of the official data, would class EU migrants as immigrants.

  12. George

    The ONS, administers of the official data, would class EU migrants as immigrants.

  13. George

    The ONS, administers of the official data, would class EU migrants as immigrants.

  14. George

    The ONS, administers of the official data, would class EU migrants as immigrants.

  15. George

    The ONS, administers of the official data, would class EU migrants as immigrants.

  16. George

    The ONS, administers of the official data, would class EU migrants as immigrants.

  17. George

    The ONS, administers of the official data, would class EU migrants as immigrants.

  18. George

    The ONS, administers of the official data, would class EU migrants as immigrants.

  19. George

    The ONS, administers of the official data, would class EU migrants as immigrants.

  20. George

    The ONS, administers of the official data, would class EU migrants as immigrants.

  21. George

    The ONS, administers of the official data, would class EU migrants as immigrants.

  22. George

    The ONS, administers of the official data, would class EU migrants as immigrants.

  23. Roger McCarthy

    So we can now look forward to UKIP clone troopers infesting every comment thread on every story that even mentions immigration and the EU.

    This site is called Left Foot Forward – people who come here or to the Guardian or whatever are your enemies and do not care what you have to say about anything.

    Even those of us on the left who are not besotted with the EU are skeptical about it for the exact opposite reasons that you are.

    The people you need to persuade are the Tories and who read the Mail and the Times and the Telegraph and the Sun.

    But you are such amateurs and incompetents that you don’t have the slightest idea of how to win votes and so waste your time trolling left wing sites.

    So carry on trolling.

  24. Intuïtie Trainer

    Donald Trump heeft geen probleem als een moslim de president wordt van de VS. Hij zei veel ‘fantastische” moslims te kennen, maar dat er wereldwijd een ‘zeer ernstig probleem” is met islamieten die niets begrijpen van de wiskundige definitie van de absolute waarheid.

    http://www.volkskrant.nl/buitenland/kandidaat-carson-moslim-niet-geschikt-als-president-vs~a4146086/

    Een andere Republikeinse presidentskandidaat durft al te beweren dat ‘de religieuze overtuigingen van een president ertoe doen als die in strijd zijn met Amerikaanse waarden’.

    De Amerikaanse centrale bank besloot vorige week de rente nog een tijdje op het huidige, historisch lage niveau te handhaven. Hoewel een lage rente doorgaans goed is voor de aandelenhandel, zorgde het besluit om een renteverhoging uit te stellen voor flinke koersdalingen. De terughoudendheid bij de Fed wakkerde bij beleggers de al bestaande vrees aan dat de SCHULD=H00P-religie binnenkort ten grave wordt gedragen. In Amsterdam sloot de toonaangevende AEX-index vrijdag op 427,32 punten, een weekverlies van 0,7 procent. Ook prinses Irene mocht vandaag in het openbaar optreden en wil dat de mens zijn rol in de evoluerende werkelijkheid gaat overdenken.

    http://www.trouw.nl/tr/nl/4492/Nederland/article/detail/4146071/2015/09/20/Live-Abel-Herzberglezing-door-Prinses-Irene.dhtml

    De Amerikaanse minister van Buitenlandse Zaken, John Kerry, heeft vandaag overlegd met de Duitse minister van Buitenlandse Zaken Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlijn over onder meer de vluchtelingenstromen naar Europa. Kerry liet weten dat president Barack Obama wel met het Congres wil overleggen over mogelijkheden om nog meer vluchtelingen op te vangen, maar niets over de invoering van het systeem ‘Leven en Laten Leven’. Zolang politici niet willen inzetten op een wereldwijd monetair gefinancierde @basisinkomen moet het Wereldvoedselprogramma van de Verenigde Naties bedelen bij onder meer Google, MasterCard, Facebook, Burger King en Twitter. Door de hulp in te roepen van grote multinationals hoopt de VN meer aandacht te krijgen voor de vluchtelingenproblematiek. Het aantal mannen, vrouwen en kinderen dat op de vlucht is voor oorlogsgeweld, conflicten en vervolging had eind 2014 een alarmerend record bereikt van 59,5 miljoen mensen. De organisatie komt dit jaar naar verwachting 3 miljard dollar tekort om de wereldwijde hongersnood te bestrijden. Daardoor is de organisatie gedwongen voedselprogramma’s voor onder meer honderdduizenden Syrische vluchtelingen in landen als Libanon, Jordanië en Egypte drastisch in te perken.

    http://www.volkskrant.nl/buitenland/live-vs-wil-100-duizend-vluchtelingen-opvangen~a4145945/

    Ook een manier om van de overbevolking af te komen.

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