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Stephen  Bevan

More heat than light in the row about migration statistics

Authors: Stephen Bevan Stephen Bevan

10 January 2012


It’s only Tuesday and already there have been several angry exchanges between researchers on the impact of migration on UK unemployment. It was prompted by a briefing paper produced by Migration Watch yesterday which remarked upon,
 
“…the ‘remarkable coincidence’ between the rise in youth unemployment in the UK and the huge surge in immigration from Eastern Europe over the last eight years.”
 
The conclusions of the paper were promptly countered by the IPPR who have, for some time, challenged the methods used by Migration Watch to compile their statistics. Then today the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) weighed in with new data from national insurance registrations to support the IPPR position and to claim that it,
 
“..found no link between migrant inflows and the overall level of those claiming jobseeker's allowance.”
 
Back in 2008 The Work Foundation published its own research into the impact of migration on the UK labour market. It concluded that there was good evidence that both interest rates and inflation had been held down by labour migration and that skill shortages had been avoided. However, it warned that debate on this issue ran the risk of becoming contaminated by wilful misinterpretation of the available data:
 
“Politicians must be extremely cautious in handling the evidence, given the wide scope for misinterpretation, the sensitivity of the issues and the possibility that xenophobia is lurking just below the horizon. For members of parliament to continue to assert that migrants are ‘taking our jobs’ or ‘forcing down wages’ is alarmist, misleading and wrong. We must debate these questions on the facts. Of course, there is no substitute for good data. Government must recognise that reliable statistics are the best defence against tendentious arguments clothed in the doubtful respectability of insubstantial economics.”
 
As the terse exchanges this week have shown, this warning is as relevant as it ever was.