Fraser Nelson massages new figures to rehash old, discredited argument

economy, jobs

Author(s):  Will Straw
Published date:  17 Aug 2011
Source:  Left Foot Forward

What do Boris Johnson, Kevin Pietersen, and James Caan have in common? They are all British citizens working and paying taxes in the UK who were born abroad. Precisely the problem group that Fraser Nelson is targetting in his latest pernicious and inaccurate analysis of Britain’s labour market.

The Coffee House blog today trails an interview with Iain Duncan Smith with the shock finding that “154 per cent of the employment increase can be accounted for by foreign-born workers”. But Fraser Nelson is using two tricks to inflate his figure which he’s been caught using before.

First, he has excluded pensioners returning to work. He claims that the ONS’ figures are “distorted” by the inclusion of OAPs without giving any justification for this claim. Surely in an ageing society where Government is extending the retirement age, it seems completely reasonable to include over-65s. Perhaps the exclusion took place to help massage the numbers. Including pensioners, the percentage of jobs taken by non-UK born workers falls from 154 per cent to 120 per cent.

But second, Nelson’s statistics only look at foreign-born workers. The list above, which includes his friend and predecessor, Boris Johnson, were all foreign-born yet hold British passports. When we look at nationality rather than country of birth (and include pensioners), the figures change dramatically and the percentage of jobs taken by non-Brits falls to 69 per cent. Indeed, using this more accurate measure, the number of British workers in employment has actually increased by 71,000 over the last year.

Employment increase (last year) Total UK Non-UK Percent to non-UK
Nelson’s claim (by country of birth) 181,000 -99,000 278,000 154%
Including pensioners 241,000 -50,000 289,000 120%
By nationality (+ pensioners) 241,000 71,000 166,000

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Readers may still be concerned that over two-thirds of the employment increases over the last year have gone to workers without British citizenship. But it’s worth considering two further points. First, a foreigner getting a new job does not necessarily take a job away from a domestic worker. This is called the ‘lump of labour fallacy‘ and has been widely debunked. Second, the steps needed to reduce the number even further are pretty tricky given that, of the 166,000 employment increase from non-British workers, 140,000 come from the European Union. Any attempt to restrict their free movement of labour would mean that British citizens would be unable to work in Paris, Madrid or Rome.

The irony is that we’ve been before, when the Spectator originally carried out this exercise in April 2010 looking at Labour’s record, Left Foot Forward issued a response pointing out these self-same flaws in Nelson’s methodology. In a grovelling update to a separate post, Nelson wrote:

“A rival version of this study has been posted by two TUC officials, looking at nationality rather than country of birth. This sharply reduces the percentage – because many immigrants hold UK passports. A perfectly valid exercise by the TUC, buy [sic] immigrants have British passports too.

“Then there’s the Boris factor. He was born in New York. So my study would include little Boris’s. No definition of “immigrant” is perfect. But foreign-born is the best you’ll get, which is why it is used by Eurostat. The number of foreign-born has doubled in Britain – something tells me  that’s not due to a rush of mothers flying off to Dublin hospitals and coming back with the baby as hand luggage.

“Finally, my original post had both working-age (99 percent of new jobs to foreign-born) and another version of all ages over 16 (including pensioners). This reduces it to 72 percent as there have been fewer pension-age immigrants.”

Far from updating his methodology, Nelson has repeated his previous error – disappointingly massaging new stats to fit an old and discredited argument.

NB: All the relevant data I’ve used is available in Table 8 of today’s ONS release.

 
 

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Will Straw, Associate Director for Climate Change, Energy and Transport