The Sun should use language that reflects reality, not their readers' prejudices.
Foreigners now make up almost one in ten of all dole claimers, according to page 2 of today’s Sun.
The statistic is just the latest rejoinder in a row between the government and Brussels over the extent to which migrants are moving from country to country as ‘benefit tourists’ within the EU.
A total of 9.4 per cent of all Jobseekers Allowance claimants this year – 142,300 – were ‘not British born’, according to the Sun. This compares with the 3 per cent figure cited by the EU – prompting the Sun to boast that the “statistics used by the controversial [EU] report are almost two years out of date”.
The Sun’s story, however, is quite misleading.
Firstly, why has the paper chosen to use the broad term ‘not British born’ in a piece about benefit tourists coming to the UK from other EU countries?
One in 10 job seekers allowance claimants are ‘not British born’, according to the Sun. This is not the same, however, as one in 10 jobseekers allowance claimants being ‘benefit tourists’ from other parts of the European Union – as should have been obvious to the journalist writing the piece.
According to the 2011 census, one in eight – 13 per cent – of UK residents was born overseas. To give an example of just how fatuous the term ‘not British born‘ is, here are a few British national treasures who would fall under the paper’s definition of ‘benefit tourists’ should they ever sign on for jobseekers allowance (unlikely, I know):
Tory MP Daniel Hannan – born in Lima, Peru
Joanna Lumley – born in India
Eddie Izzard – born in Aden, Yemen
Richard E. Grant – born in Swaziland
Boris Johnson – born in New York, USA
Bradley Wiggins – born in Ghent, Belgium
John Barnes – born in Kingston, Jamaica
None of these celebrities were British born. According to the Sun, they are therefore ‘foreigners’ and potential ‘benefit tourists’.
As to the wider row about migrants coming from places like Poland and Hungary to claim benefits and ‘steal our jobs’ (you’ve probably noticed a contradiction there that some of our political commentators are seemingly oblivious to), there is, as it happens, no precedent to support such claims.
Research published by the government last year found that almost 17 per cent of all British nationals were receiving working-age benefits compared to under 7 per cent of all those classed as non-UK nationals when they first arrived in the UK.
Working-age benefits are defined as income support, job seeker’s allowance, carer’s allowance and disability living allowance.
This is a long-term trend. In 2008-09, at the height of Labour’s policy of so-called ‘uncontrolled immigration’, A8 immigrants paid 37 per cent more in direct or indirect taxes than they received in public goods and services.
A8 immigrants also contributed 0.96 per cent of total tax receipts and accounted for only 0.6 per cent of total expenditures (see table; click to zoom).
The Sun may not have wished their terminology to have been interpreted in this way. They may also have been attempting to whip up hostility to migrants using phrases like ‘not British born’. Either way, they should use language that reflects reality, not their readers’ prejudices.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.