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There are lies, damned lies — and statistics about the housing queue

Rod Liddle says that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has been well led by Trevor Phillips — all the more reason to play straight with figures about the treatment of immigrant applicants for housing

22 July 2009

12:00 AM

22 July 2009

12:00 AM

Rod Liddle says that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has been well led by Trevor Phillips — all the more reason to play straight with figures about the treatment of immigrant applicants for housing

There was a report out recently which said that men who marry much younger women tend to live rather longer than men who don’t. This cheered me up no end. I’ve always had the vague suspicion that I might be immortal, beyond the reach of the Reaper’s scythe, and I regularly scour the newspapers for scientific evidence that this suspicion of mine is indeed well founded. And there it was. I married a woman who was much younger than me, you see, so, as they say — get in there, back of the net. Looks like I’ll be around until I’m 150 and then I can marry another much younger woman and add another 30 or 40 years on to the total, keep on doing it over and over again and end up a Time Lord.

The only worry was that the science in this scientific survey might be a bit flawed. After all, what is the process by which marrying a younger woman adds years to your life? Is there a sort of implied vampirism at work? Most people, asked this question, would probably hazard at maybe a reinvigorating aspect — that was certainly the approach taken by every single newspaper: Cor! Phew! She’ll keep you fit and no mistake, guv! This was implied by the people who did the survey too, although the science of ‘keeping you fit’ was never really spelled out.


It was then I realised that, once again, we’d all been had: there had been no weighting of the sample in the survey for personal wealth. The sort of men who marry much younger women tend to be much more affluent than the norm and it is this affluence which keeps them alive longer (better health care, diet, less work etc), not the presence of the young bint by their side. This didn’t apply to me — my young wife married a fat old pig with a large tax bill and no assets. We were once again in the same neck of the woods as those surveys which tell you that if you live in Weybridge rather than Rotherham your life expectancy will increase — as if upping sticks and setting up a tent in Weybridge high street will shove 20 years on your life. Whereas, in fact, people live longer in Weybridge because in general they have more money. The geographical location business — like the younger woman business — is a false correlation.

Newspapers swallow these sorts of stories because they make good copy, even though they are lies of a kind. And also they swallow them because the journalists who write them have had the bit of their brain which deals with science hacked out by a claw hammer and replaced with lime jelly.

Sometimes you read these surveys and just know that they are wrong, that there is something amiss. So when, after the BNP won its two seats in the European parliament, politicians and housing officials started to claim that the notion of immigrants getting preferential treatment on the housing lists was a racist myth and they had the figures to prove it, I smelled a rat. The left kept chucking around this figure that less than 2 per cent of our council housing stock is occupied by ‘immigrants’ — and it simply felt wrong. This figure comes from a joint study by the left-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research and the even lefter-leaning Equality and Human Rights Commission, and states that 1.8 per cent of our social housing stock is occupied by migrants who arrived here after 2002 (a caveat not mentioned by the politicians) and that 90 per cent of all social housing is occupied by people born in the UK. Intuitively, you know that these figures are disingenuous; luckily, Professor Mervyn Stone, from the University College of London, in a pamphlet for the think-tank Civitas, has exposed them for the lies they are.

In short, the EHRC is not comparing like with like. As Stone writes: ‘To estimate the chances of a new migrant applicant getting a home you have to divide the number of migrants who are successful applicants by the total number of migrants eligible to apply.’ You then need to do the same sort of calculation for those born in the UK who were successful in applying for council homes between 2002-2007 (the period covered by the study). The IPPR and EHRC didn’t bother with any of that. You suspect — and indeed, Professor Stone suspects — that both bodies had a fair idea that the figures they produced were not directly comparable and therefore deliberately misleading. The figures produced by these two publicly funded bodies are of ‘zero inferential value’, argues Civitas. And as Mervyn Stone put it to me, it’s glaringly obvious if you give it just a moment’s thought.

It was from this that the EHRC adduced that there was ‘no evidence of bias in the allocation of social housing towards immigrants’. As Stone puts it in his pamphlet, ‘sceptics can hardly ask to see the evidence: they have been told… that there is none. The only thing they can ask for is evidence that there is no evidence.’ In short, the figures bandied about so frequently after those elections said nothing whatsoever about immigrants getting preferential treatment or otherwise, despite the conclusion drawn by both bodies.

It is unfortunate that the EHRC should have got itself into trouble like this, seeing that it is having a rough time of it at the moment. Many of the problems — the perpetual infighting, the sniping and the scorn poured upon the head of its boss, Trevor Phillips — are a consequence of the EHRC’s determination to reform and somehow drag itself away from its outdated position as a repository of continual agitprop whining and the massed howling of ‘raacccist!’ at the drop of a hat. Phillips has done a remarkable job there and one might cite as evidence for this the many enemies he has made of people who are, ostensibly, on his side. He certainly deserves another three years at its helm. But statistics should not be blithely manipulated in such a way, even if those doing the manipulating continually tell themselves that their hearts are in the right place.

To see the Civitas report go to http://tinyurl.com/lyuek3.


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