How the BBC reported a Migration Watch study


10:04 am - October 15th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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On Wednesday night BBC online ran a news story on the hard-right lobby group Migration Watch’s latest report.

It says that half a million extra school places would be needed in the UK over the next five years as a result of immigration.

The news story simply regurgitated the MigrationWatch press release and didn’t bother offering additional information or a counter-balance. By yesterday morning the story had been updated with a comment by Tim Finch of think-tank ippr.

What struck me afterwards is how rubbish the BBC news story was in giving any context to the report.

First, author Phillipe Legrain did a quick rebuttal explaining its assumptions:

1) By using cumulative figures. If you add up spending on anything over a long period of time, it looks much bigger than it really is. Using a single year’s statistics, 2009, and MW’s deeply flawed methodology, the cost of schooling the children of migrants who have arrived since 1998 is £4.6 billion, out of an education budget of £88 billion.

2) By counting children who have one parent who was born abroad as half due to migration. Since Nick Clegg has a Spanish wife, they include half the cost of educating their kids as being due to migration. Excluding that dodogy use of statistics, the cost in 2009 falls to £3.6bn.

3) By ignoring the taxes that migrants pay. Research by the Home Office, IPPR, Christian Dustmann at UCL and others show that migrants pay more in taxes than they take out in benefits and public services. Allowing for that, it is not UK-born taxpayers who are paying to educate migrants’ children, it is migrants who are subsidising the education of the children of people born in the UK.

Read that second point again. Even if one of the parents of a child born in the UK had been born abroad, Migration Watch count the child as half an ‘immigrant’.

Further analysis by the website Full Fact exposed more issues.

They point out that MigrationWatch claim their figures are based on the “principal projection” by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which says from 2008 to 2033, 2.3 million births are projected to occur, directly or indirectly, because of net migration.

But:

But after much searching and head-scratching, Full Fact was unable to discover any ONS projections which broke down predicted birth rates by the parents’ place of birth.

A call to the ONS confirmed that no such statistics exist: “”We certainly don’t publish population projection data by country of migrant or any kind of ethnic background,” said a spokesperson, “the sums themselves won’t have been done by us.”

Most of this is ignored by the BBC report. They didn’t even ask the ONS whether these projections were produced by them or not.

It seems their job has become simply to convert press releases into stories and and let others offer soundbites.

In 2008 the BBC’s Kevin Marsh wrote a blog post titled, Journalism, not ‘churnalism’ — it seems to have been chucked in the scrapheap.

They may as well have just done a graphic and a report like the Sun newspaper did (at least it doesn’t pretend to be impartial)

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


The Migration Watch story was also reported on Radio 4 that day I think, and it struck me then there was a signal lack of any countervailing arguments presented to challenge the figures and/or premise of the MW report.

Read that second point again. Even if one of the parents of a child born in the UK had been born abroad, Migration Watch count the child as an ‘immigrant’.

Jesus Sunny, read it again, again.

By counting children who have one parent who was born abroad as half due to migration

It’s a junk definition in my opinion (but then I would say that, since I’m married to an immigrant and have a child who is therefore ‘half-immigrant’) but it’s not what you say it is.

Why did the litigation friendly Migration Watch stop at calculating the education costs? Why not go the whole way and add on the costs of educating the grandchildren of migrants?

If we are going todo a long term cost/benefit analysis of migration based on these stupid assumptions then we may as well do a lifetime analysis by assuming migrants stay for whole life and so we can include the tax contribution made by these children (perhaps factoring in the probability of another google being formed) and additional costs of care in 2090 when they are elderly.

It’s typical of MW that they only want to consider the period when people are mainly net recipients of state expenditure, and not consider the contributions these people will make. I think it’s because they know full well that the children of immigrants tend to be entreprenurial and end up in better jobs than their parents did.

Is Frank Field an MP of the ‘hard right’?

If so, how exactly?

What I admire most about Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch is that he usually sticks to the facts, argues coherently, doesn’t get emotional and is unfailingly courteous. I haven’t looked at this latest controversy, so I can’t comment.
By describing MW as “hard right”, you do yourself no favours – unless you want only to preach to the converted. I am concerned about the growth in the IK poulation and am prepared to admit that I object to houses being built near mine purely because I don’t want other people near me whose behaviour I can’t control. I don’t care what the ethnic origins of people coming into this country are, so long as one person leaves for each one that arrives and enough extra leave to compensate for the increased birth rate of immigrants.
None of the usual arguments hold up. Saying that we need young people to look after and pay for the pensions of the old only delays the day of reckoning. And talk of “joined up transport” is hog wash. The South East of England seems to be one big bad tempered traffic jam and trains are packed to the rafters with people going back to their little boxes on dreary estates. That is not living. It is existing and is due to the high poulation density. It will only get worse; and whether MW is correct or not on this occasion, I think they make a very valuable contribution.

5 Jon

Everything I’ve seen and heard about MW points to the fact that they are pretty hard (if not actually “far”) right. They obviously have an axe to grind, and are no doubt convinced of the arguments they put forward, as you would expect from an organisation which represents passionately held views on a given topic.

The fact that Andrew Green is polite, well spoken, nice to dogs and children etc., doesn’t in itself really speak to whether the claims in MW reports are actually true. However honeyed the presentation, it has always seemed to me that the message itself, and the ideological view of immigration which informs it, are deeply unpleasant.

You seem to be conflating a rather banal Major-esque vision of warm beer, cricket playing, spinster-on-a-bicycle off to evensong, little Englandism (with a healthy dash of nimbyism thrown in), with some ill-thought out truism that Britain is somehow “full”.

The woeful state of public transport, the traffic problems in the SE, the unimaginative planning of housing etc. etc., have little if anything to do with immigration; they have a lot to do with chronic under investment over decades, a lack of “joined-up” policies, and a failure to de-centralise and promote more growth in the regions.

Sunny

If you want “journalism not churnalism” then set a good example by not simply regurgitating the errors @ Full Fact.

A quick look at ONS Statistical Bulletin: National population projections, 2008-based and you will find Section 2 and Table 3 deal with the effects of net migration. You’ll also find this:

The projected numbers of future births and deaths are themselves partly dependent on the
assumed level of net migration. Because migration is concentrated at young adult ages, the assumed level of net migration affects the projected number of women of childbearing age and hence the projected number of births. Ofthe 5.6 million natural increase projected
between 2008 and 2033, only 3.3 million would occur if net migration were zero (at each and every age) throughout the projection period (Table 3). Thus just over two-thirds of the
projected increase in the population over the period 2008 to 2033 is either directly or indirectly due to migration (45 per cent directly attributable to future migration and a further
23 per cent indirectly due to future migration through its effect on natural change).

@ 6. Galen10

Ditto

Just to see the population in a one in and one out basis is moronic. What matters is the distribution of ages across the population pyramid. The baby boomers who were themselves a bulge in the population did not replace themselves during the 1970s. When that happens what you get is a mini inverted population pyramid with a bulge of pensioners at the top and a shortage of taxpayers in the middle to finance the retirement of the bulge. Sounds like a pension crisis? It is and it was the baby boomers who caused it. Importing immigrants to fill the gap helps to alleviate the problem. Sure immigrants age too, but that is irrelevant as the population pyramid has a more equal distribution.

Our problems are not too many births or too many immigrants and the challenges will only get more difficult over the next few decades. The problem is life expectancy is rising. No party is going to be campaigning for a genocide of pensioners. It would be a solution but is obviously inhumane. They hold the political power and they have captured every government for the last thirty years to serve their interests.

Jon says I don’t do myself any favours by calling Migration Watch ‘hard-right’, and then goes on to say: and am prepared to admit that I object to houses being built near mine purely because I don’t want other people near me whose behaviour I can’t control.

You like to control your neighbours’ behaviour and you’re telling me I’m being absurd?

Tim J – oops, you’re right. It’s only half – have changed it now.

If I’m the grandchild of an immigrant do I count as a quarter of a whole immigrant? Or if I’m the great-grandchild of an immigrant (as is actually the case I think…) do I count as an eighth of an immigrant? Or if I’m the great-great-grandchild of an immigrant do I count as a sixteenth of an immigrant?
The mind boggles.

Which is why I’m glad that Migration Watch are utterly fair and balanced in all their reported and do not use mumbo-jumbo figures to back up a racist viewpoint (a tactic used by far-right organisations like the BNP and dating back to the NSDAP and beyond). Thank heavens Migration Watch are nothing like that.

On an entirely different subject I find this article interesting.

So you think that people who think that uncontrolled immigration is not a great idea are on the “hard right”? Just one step away from Hitler and Co?

Mass immigration into the UK over the last 13 years has hit the working classes the hardest. The people who try their best to improve their lot and hope that their kids will do better in life than themselves. 20 years ago you would have called these type of people core Labour voters. I doubt many vote Labour these days.

And you sit there Sunny and scratch your head pondering why left wing politics in 2010 Britain is dead and left to a few Guardian columnists like yourself to worry about.

@11

So you think that people who think that uncontrolled immigration is not a great idea are on the “hard right”? Just one step away from Hitler and Co?

nah – but deliberately using statistics in a misleading and downright dishonest way smacks of the tactics of the hard-right, and combined with MW’s agenda it’s not a pretty picture. why else do they define the child of an immigrant as “half an immigrant”? as I pointed out above @10 that is plain stupid. And I don’t think MW are stupid. On the contrary I think they are very clever indeed.

correction to @12 should be “why else do they define the child of an immigrant and a native-born as “half an immigrant”?”

@11

Oh and also well done for lumping the working class in with MW’s horrible views! When I was working in a factory five years ago I saw no aminosity between the local-born workers and the various Latvians, Poles and others who made up the workforce. None whatsoever – hell a couple of my workmates even learnt Latvian to understand better. This myth that the working class hate immigration needs to be stopped. Sure some do – so do some middle class people. So do some upper class people. Bigotry, ironically, knows no barriers.

Galen10 @6

Everything I’ve seen and heard about MW points to the fact that they are pretty hard (if not actually “far”) right. They obviously have an axe to grind, and are no doubt convinced of the arguments they put forward, as you would expect from an organisation which represents passionately held views on a given topic.

I don’t think using the term ”hard right” is particularly helpful here. What is Phillipe Legrain then who espouses open borders? He must be ”hard left”.

Migration Watch certainly are alarmist – and you could even call them ”tabloid whores” because of the way they pitch their output towards the likes of the Mail and Express.
I’m not sure exaxtly what they have done wrong here. Made a scare story out of it perhaps. But are they wrong in their pronouncements of rising population being down to immigration? If we have a rising overall population, it’s not because the birth rate within the country has risen beyond two children per woman is it?
It might be – or is it just that there are more women giving birth? Many of whom were not living here so long ago?

This was the (so called) Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration.

http://www.balancedmigration.com/briefingPapers/DeclarationonPopulation.pdf

…… the official projections show the population of the UK will increase from 61.4 million in 2008 to exceed 70 million by 2029. Over the next 25 years the population will increase by 10 million, nearly all of the increase being in England. 70% – 7 million – will be due to immigration.

It’s made up of these people:

1.Rt Hon. Frank Field MP
2.The Hon. Nicholas Soames MP
3.The Lord Jordan CBE
4.Daniel Kawczynski MP
5.Rt Hon. Michael Ancram QC MP
6.Peter Bottomley MP
7.Christopher Chope MP
8.Roger Godsiff MP
9.John Horam MP
10.Robert Key MP
11.Peter Kilfoyle MP
12.Rt Hon. the Lord Anderson of Swansea
13.Rt Hon. the Baroness Boothroyd OM
14.Rt Rev. and Rt Hon. the Lord Carey of Clifton
15.The Baroness Cox
16.Rt Hon. the Earl Ferrers DL
17.The Lord Leach of Fairford
18.Professor the Lord Skidelsky
19.The Lord Vinson LVO DL
20.Hazhir Teimourian

8.

I wouldn’t count on the inhumanity of a policy being sufficient reason to reject it. Young people’s resentment and dislike of the old is engrained and it is obvious many would not object to culling the “wrinklies” in order to reduce tuition fees or whatever. However, it need not be done by overt policy. Cut the winter fuel allowance (as the government probably intends) and you can ensure a reduction of the unwanted old. Haul back pension increases by linking them to the CPI and mortality of the over 60s will similarly rise, a result which will also be achieved by forcing people to work until 70. NHS rationing will pare down the numbers of elderly as well. Campaign for the right to assisted suicide and euthanasia, and simultaneously encourage people to see killing themselves as a way of serving the “Big Society” and hey presto, the demographic pyramid will soon become an obalisk, without any need to engage in an open debate on the morality of treating old people as sub human and fit only for the death chamber.

Iron Man,

Yes. Yes, he is. At this point, party affiliations have very little bearing on personal political leanings.

Hope that helps.


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  25. Should we really be slamming the Beeb? | Liberal Conspiracy

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