Fraser Nelson

Woolas on the rack

Woolas on the rack
Text settings

Phil Woolas has just been confronted on Daily Politics about immigration figures which we uncovered on Coffee House yesterday, showing 99 percent of new jobs since 1997 are accounted for by immigration. His response is (unintentionally) hilarious. He is immigration minister, yet appears not to know what immigration figures mean. Here's the transcript:

Phil Woolas: I think that the Spectator's analysis, perhaps not surprisingly, is confusing two completely separate things

Andrew Neil: These are Office of National Statistics figures.which we checked this morning. Do you accept that there are 1.7 million new jobs for people of working age between 16 and 64, correct?

PW: Yes

AN: And according to the Labour Force Survey, compiled by the Office of National Statistics. 1.67 million jobs went to foreign born workers

PW: That's not what they say. What they say is there have been 1.67million immigrant workers - immigrant workers are temporary workers - so what you're doing is conflating temporary workers, the total over 13 years, with permanent workers, and because it's similar to the new jobs created, you are taking a false logical step. This is an old trick that has been played in every election since 1964. And what it is saying is that the number of temporary immigrant workers is the same as the total number of new jobs. That is logically not true. It cannot be arithmetically true. It's like saying that 50,000 people go to watch Arsenal every match, there have been ten matches; therefore 500,000 people have been. In fact, it may be that the same 50,000 people have. And that is the statistical trick that is being pulled on you.'

This, CoffeeHousers, is why I don't believe in the David Neather conspiracy theories. These boys are without a clue. Woolas is not feigning ignorance - he genuinely has no idea about the Labour Force Survey, which is the single most reliable measure of immigration in Britain. So let me enlighten him.

The LFS is a quarterly census, conducted every three months. The definition of "foreign born" is not a Tory trick: it is the standard measure used across all EU member states. It's a simple headcount. There is no double-counting, or whatever else the minister may imagine.  "Most immigrants are temporary. they've left and gone already" he chirped. Well, then, they wouldn't be counted in the LFS survey if they've gone. Or to put it in Woolas-friendly terms, the LFS only counts the people actually IN the Arsenal stadium. Next, there is no distinction between temporary or permanent. It's just people who are "employed". And it just so happens that 13 percent of those employed in Britain now were born overseas. I have no idea what he is on about here.

The ONS does not release the figures, but it does provide them to journalists on request. This is why I put in a request, and have made the raw data public (it's here and here , as pdfs).

I'd like to finish with five small points about the ONS Labour Force Survey:

1. It's conducted at the behest of the European Council. Brown doubtless hates the fact that these figures exist, and no government department publishes then or uses them. They're not too keen on people finding out about the extent of immigration. But under EU law, the ONS has to collate the information - and provide it to journalists on request.

2. The definition of "foreign-born" angers some people (The Times ran a furious leader denouncing it) but its ire should be directed at Eurostat. They set the definitions, which are standardised in the Labour Force Survey conducted in every EU country.

3. The Statistics Commission released a very helpful note (which I'd commend to Phil Woolas) here.

4. All I did was take the methodology from the above Statistics Commission briefing document, and asked the ONS to update it for me. Very kindly, they did.

5. I often rail against the EU and its regulations. But, in this case, had it not been for supranational authority, Brown would probably succeed in not collating any information on how many of his 2.5 million "new jobs" are going to immigrants. The EU has in this case acted as a bulwark against a government that has no desire to clarify the statistics about immigration. Even internally, these figures are not passed on. The government machine pretends they don't exist. So as I say, I don't think Woolas was bluffing. He is genuinely clueless. And that's far more worrying.

UPDATE: 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 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. The below is how the table works out if you include pensioners. Still a far cry from "British jobs for British people".