From the TUC

“Migrants on the Dole”

20 Jan 2012, by in Labour market, Society & Welfare

People with memories of politics the seventies and eighties will have been taken back in time by today’s front page lead in the Daily Telegraph:

370,000 migrants on the dole

On the one hand, the paper plays up “concerns that the country has become a destination for ‘benefit tourists’”. Then, towards the end of the article, there is equal outrage at the fact that “90 percent of new jobs created in Britain over the past decade have gone to foreign -born workers.”

All those arguments where you ended up asking “are you angry because they have got jobs or because they haven’t?” It’s like being back in my twenties. It’s worth paying some attention to the methodology of the DWP reporton which this story is based: the Department has used National Insurance numbers to identify people on benefits who were non-UK nationals at the point when they registered for National Insurance numbers. The authors of the report go out of their way to highlight the fact that

these statistics do not provide a measure of non-UK nationals currently claiming benefits based on their current nationality. (Emphasis in original)

In other words, many of these claimants could well have been UK citizens for a number of years. The researchers took a random sample of 9,000 of these claimants, matched their details with Borders Agency records, and found that 54 per cent had been granted British citizenship.

And, with a bit of thought, surely most people will conclude that even the non-British citizens should have rights to benefit. Chris Grayling and Damian Greenaccept this (begrudgingly) in a comment piece also published today in the Telegraph:

There’s a natural instinct that says that no one from other countries should receive benefits at all. But if someone works and pays taxes here, it’s not unreasonable that we should help out if they fall on hard times.  But we have to have a system that is fair and transparent, and which stops people receiving money that they should not be entitled to.

But who is receiving money they should not be entitled to? In the Telegraph article you have to wait till paragraph 13 before you read:

In the majority of cases, ministers found that the migrants claiming benefits were eligible for the money. In a small sample group, details from a quarter of claimants could not be verified, while 2 per cent of them were suspected of making fraudulent claims. (My emphasis.)

Despite the Telegraph’s headline, the 371,000 claimants are not all on Jobseeker’s Allowance; the figure is for all “working age” benefits. The relevant figure for JSA is 121.7 thousand, which is less of a scary number. Claimants in this group who are on JSA are, in fact, outnumbered by disabled people:

  • JSA – 121,700
  • Employment and Support Allowance and incapacity benefits – 130,400
  • Lone parents – 53,900
  • Carers – 33,500
  • Other income-related – 10,900
  • Disabled 14,100
  • Bereaved – 6,500

Finally, the media coverage does not highlight the fact that migrants are, in fact, substantially less likely to claim benefits than native British people:

As at February 2011, 16.6% of working age UK nationals were claiming a DWP working age benefit compared to 6.6% of working age non-UK nationals.

So, what the DWP’s research actually reveals is:

  • Foreign born people are less likely to claim benefits than others.
  • Most people on benefits who were foreigners when they first came here are probably British citizens now.
  • Nearly all of them only claim benefits they are entitled to.
  • And most of them aren’t on the dole.

I think I can live with all that.