MigrationWatch: a short history of spin, shoddy statistics and downright dishonesty

MigrationWatch don't 'talk truth to power'. They tell it exactly what it wants to hear: that it's all the fault of the immigrants.

MigrationWatch don’t ‘talk truth to power’. They tell it exactly what it wants to hear: that it’s all the fault of the immigrants

With it being reported yesterday that Sir Andrew Green of MigrationWatch is to receive a peerage, commentators have been queuing up to praise the man who was ‘brave enough to talk about immigration’ etc etc.

It is, apparently, now a sign of unmitigated courage to talk about something the tabloids never shut up about.

So is MigrationWatch – and by extension Sir Andrew – really a brave vessel for truth telling?

Not really.

Here at Left Foot Forward we’ve taken a brief look back at some of the spin, bad statistics and downright dishonesty that MigrationWatch have deployed over the years.

The Migrationwatch report that was ‘simply wrong’ and a ‘stark misapprehension’

‘Immigrants cost Britain £3,000 a year each’, boomed the Daily Telegraph back in March.

“Immigrants have cost the taxpayer more than £22 million a day since the mid-1990s, totting up a bill of more than £140 billion,” it added.

The ‘findings’, if you could call them that, were from a report by MigrationWatch. The report claimed that a paper by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), which appeared to show that immigration was a net benefit to the UK, actually showed that immigration had cost the British economy hundreds of billions of pounds over 20 years.

The Telegraph had predictably regurgitated a MigrationWatch press release for a story.

The problem was that the MigrationWatch report was based on a ‘stark misapprehension’ and was ‘simply wrong’.

Not my words, but those of one of the authors of the original study on which MigrationWatch had based its findings.

Not understanding the term ‘net contribution’

In 2010, MigrationWatch published a report which argued that the UK’s education budget was being stretched beyond capacity due to migration.

The problem was that MigrationWatch ignored the contribution migrants were making to the public purse through things like income tax. As we noted at the time, the evidence suggests that migrants contribute more in taxes than they consume in public benefits or services.

More recently, a study by University College London found that migrants who have come to the UK since the year 2000 have made a ‘substantial’ contribution to public finances.

Using shoddy data to push an anti-immigrant narrative

In a 2011 report entitled ‘Mass Immigration: Labour’s enduring legacy to Britain’ (and laughably billed as a ‘forensic’ analysis of immigration trends’), MigrationWatch got confused over some fairly simple datasets.

As Ruth Grove-White of the Migrants’ Rights Network pointed out on Left Foot Forward, a graph produced by MigrationWatch, which claimed to represent the ‘Sources of Net Migration’ between 1997 and 2009, appeared to attribute all net migration for this period to non-EU sources. Meanwhile the accompanying text claimed that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of foreign immigrants derived from non-EU sources.

And yet according to the ONS, while in 2009 non-British citizens accounted for 83 per cent of all long-term immigrants to the UK, a third of these migrants were from EU countries.

MigrationWatch also claimed in the same paper that:

“…illegal immigrants could number almost one million.”

This figure was not borne out by independent research from the London School of Economics, which put the figure at approximately 625,000 – too high certainly, but significantly fewer than the MigrationWatch estimate.

Falsely accusing migrants of driving down pay and taking our benefits

In 2013, MigrationWatch published a paper calling on the government to remove the ‘pull’ that attracts immigrants to Britain.

By ‘pull’ they were referring to the UK’s minimum wage and benefits apparently “worth up to five times more than those in Romania and Bulgaria”.

However as was pointed out at the time by Thomas Southern, migrants do not come to the UK for the benefits – nor are they ‘stealing our jobs’. As Southern put it:

“Out of the 2.2 million EU nationals in the UK in 2010, 4.21 per cent claimed working benefits. By contrast, 14.32 per cent of British nationals within the age range were doing the same.”

And to quote economist and head of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, Jonathan Portes, on wages, EU migrants “don’t appear to have a negative impact on the employment prospects of natives – several different studies have failed to show any link”:

“However, there is some evidence that migration, while having some positive impact on wages overall, might have a small negative impact for the low-paid. But these impacts appear quite small – other factors, like general labour market developments, or the minimum wage, appear to be considerably more important.”


So much for MigrationWatch ‘talking truth to power’.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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.

86 Responses to “MigrationWatch: a short history of spin, shoddy statistics and downright dishonesty”

  1. Dave Roberts

    He still does.

  2. Dave Roberts

    Show us the condemnation.

  3. Stephen

    I do not agree. The threat to employment caused by free movement of capital is a far more serious threat. Over the last 35 years it has cost millions of jobs, either not replaced at all, or replaced with low quality, low paying service jobs. I find it frustrating – and frankly deeply hypocritical – that those who rail against immigration have nothing much to say about this apocalypse that has befallen working class jobs.

    Please do not pat me on the head and tell me is unimportant. And please do not insult British workers by calling them “crap”. This is what is wrong with the immigration debate as conducted by the right in this country. It is conducted on an wholly spurious and disingenuous premise. It pretends to be defending British workers but is actually conducted for narrow nationalistic reasons. As is demonstrated by your dismissing the destruction of the native car manufacturing jobs in such causal terms. Either you defend British workers or you do not. There is is no middle way.

  4. Cole

    Who cares about a few loons like Galloway and the SWP? They’re a tiny, irrelevant minority.

  5. Cole

    Seems you don’t want to answer the point about Ukip snuggling up to the Polish extremists. Maybe you support what they’re doing.

  6. Cole

    Pretty simple: free movement within the EU, a skills test for people from outside the EU (plus people genuinely fleeing persecution).

  7. Dave Roberts

    Calm down, calm down as the scousers used to say. First of all I am a worker having started as an apprentice on the building probably before you were born. Far too many people make the mistake of thinking that people who can write and construct arguments have all been to university.

    You are confusing the movement of capital with unproductive industries. There has always been a movement of capital. A good read is “Expulsion: England’s Jewish Solution” by Richard Huscroft concerning the expulsion of the Jews by Edward 1 in 1275. It discusses how Jewish communities, very involved banking and credit were expelled, very largely because of their economic power.

    Examples are given of letters of credit issued in various parts of Europe which could be cashed in others. In other words there was a movement of capital eight hundred years ago. Lombard Street is named after the bankers from that part of Europe who established themselves and who moved capital around the known world.

    You are talking about profit maximisation by moving or relocating industries to either other parts of a country, another country to take or a different continent to take advantage of particular conditions which is totally different.

    Like Leon/Guest you must read what is written. I said 1970s British cars were crap, which they were. obviously you have never driven a Morris Ital or Marina.

  8. Dave Roberts

    And in terms of both, education, health care and housing?

  9. Dave Roberts

    Sorry. I forgot the Austin Princess. You’ve got me going on British Leyland now so you only have yourself to blame!

  10. Guest

    “I’m a worker, honest, honest, I did a week on the shop floor before I went to help Daddy!”

    And yes, thanks for talking about what you’d do again for ideological reasons alone. Keep seeing everyone as the same, as you say British workers are worse than crap.

  11. Guest

    Nope, you’re just determined to make the UK like the places which are “questionable to say the least”, with similar wages, as you single out the sort of impact which is FAR too minor for you.

    That you see a Black face as a threat really defines your thinking.

  12. Guest

    He found issues for one reason, and one reason only – no minimum wage. That is now solved in Germany.

    The UK has a minimum wage. if we had a living wage, it’d be even less of an issue. Oh, and we need to enforce it.

  13. Guest


    Well, okay, you’re condemned. Go tell your local scrapyard.

  14. Leon Wolfeson

    The far right, who can go “they’re as bad as us”, and then try and paint them as everyone who isn’t a right winger.

  15. Guest

    Why do you support smashing wages for the British?

    You support only your rich crossing borders, to “contribute” to your pocket and your high socoety, who are the only real people to you.

  16. Guest

    And we’d get none of said capital, the City would be closed down overnight…

  17. GhostofJimMorrison

    Then there’s Unite against Fascism standing shoulder to shoulder with Islamofascist groups; Livingstone and his mate Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who believes all homosexuals should face the death penalty. I’m only speculating, but I imagine his views on Jews and the Holocaust matches that of the EFDD. Read Nick Cohen’s What’s Left for more examples. And if we’re talking about anti-Semitism then the left is hardly innocent in that respect!! And I’m ever so sorry for not replying quicker, but I have a life and a job. And of course I must support them! Obviously! Lol, cretin.

  18. Guest

    Keep opposing the poor’s access to them. Remember kids, GDP and wages are FAR too high in Dave’s world!

  19. Guest

    So blocking all but the rich from crossing borders, i.e. exactly what you wanted all along.

    But you won’t accept harsh tariffs, which would be a real compromise, on all British goods.

    The Little Englanders, as you are, try and say “it’ll be fine” when all the evidence is no, it would not be. You magic up trade treaties we don’t have, and wouldn’t have for 5+ years, and which we’d be at a massive disadvantage for.

    As ever, you say only your rich are creative and productive, as you dismiss an absolute position as something to “negotiate” over.

  20. Guest

    No, what would happen as a true compromise is that UK goods would have a sharp tariff slapped on them.

    You’re demanding take without any give, which won’t happen.

  21. Guest

    No, UAF are not standing with you.

    And thanks for outlining your views on Jews and the Holocaust, while your name your Islamist heros.

    And I see, your constant posts as Dave and LB show you don’t have a life or a job, as you boast about how you’re a leech even on other Islamists.

    And you sign your post, “lol, cretin”.

  22. Guest

    PS, who funds you, for the record?

  23. GhostofJimMorrison

    Who’s smashing wages, Wolfey? Please make sense, for once, I beg you!

  24. GhostofJimMorrison


  25. GhostofJimMorrison

    Explain, please.

  26. GhostofJimMorrison

    Actually, don’t bother. I’ve just had a quick look at your profile and you have a history of speaking utter drivel and using personal insults and offensive language to others. You will get no more replies from me, ever. Goodbye.

  27. Stephen

    The City functioned when there were exchange controls, which were abolished by Thatcher, I recall. But the point of my question was get to get people to think beyond this monomania about immigration.

  28. Dave Roberts

    No I didn’t. Read what was actually said.

  29. itdoesntaddup

    Governments have been far more downright dishonest on migration data than Migration Watch. Not one of them has attempted to provide a proper explanation for the divergence between NINO data and official IPS/LTIM data – which itself has been subjected to substantial upward historical revision. Of course, although the problem of failing to identify incoming A8 migrants at subsidiary airports (because IPS ignored them) was flagged up no later than 2006, it took until 2009 before anything was actually done about it, and only this year do we finally get some post-hoc attempt to assess the consequences in the migration data. Likewise, we are told that we should ignore students in migration data, because supposedly they’re only here to study. Then the data show that two thirds of them are staying on permanently, legally or otherwise – and of those gaining extensions to stay, few are doing so on the basis of being highly employable, while most are settling on the basis of marriage.

    As to the economic benefits of migration, I’d rather rely on Prof Rowthorn than any of the sources cited in this article, most of which do the equivalent of passing off turnover as profit.

  30. Guest

    So he disagrees with you, and you use your usual policy. Except you will insult him, over and over.

  31. Guest

    Exactly, you can’t disagree with anything said, it’s so boringly obvious.

  32. Guest

    So you’re stuck in the past. That’s nice. Today…Frankfurt would be waiting.

  33. Guest

    I’m sure you beg for a lot of things, as you don’t read your own posts.

  34. Guest

    So, you did and you’re a liar. You want to kill workers, and now…

    It’s you, Dave/LB.

  35. Stephen

    This obsession with immigration is simply dwelling in the past, no? Imagining some mythical all English utopia circa 1954. Time to grow up, eh?

  36. Guest

    No surprise you’d prefer one man rather than data, as you accuse people of being worse than your Heros.

    And then you attack Students, who don’t have a 66% (or even within an order of magnitude of that) rate of staying on.

    Your argument is not economic, it’s about your fear.

Leave a Reply