Migrants & benefits: DWP give us some answers..

Today – after much chivvying by the UK Statistics Authority – DWP have finally replied to my Freedom of Information Request of December 4th last year. This simply asked them to explain some of the assumptions they’d made to get to the Prime Minister’s deeply dubious assertion that

We now know that, at any one time, around 40 percent of all recent European Economic Area migrants are supported by the UK benefits system

 The whole sorry saga is set out here by Sir Andrew Dilnot, Chair of UKSA, who previously made clear his displeasure that the PM used unverified and unpublished statistics, and now criticises DWP for their lengthy and entirely unjustified obstructionism.

The DWP response is here. And I am pleased that it is at least a good faith attempt to explain how they got to the 40% figure.  Further analysis and scrutiny are required, but the first thing that leaps out is how many assumptions DWP made – and how they were designed to inflate the total figures.  A number of “uplifts” were applied, based on fairly thin evidence, described as a “combination of bespoke analysis and analyst judgement”. 

But perhaps most revealing is this answer

Q.  Please provide figures for the number of main claimants and the number of partners assumed to be a) UK nationals b) EEA nationals resident less than 4 years c) EEA nationals resident more than 4 years and the basis for the assumptions.

A. The specific additional information requested here is not currently available and would require the production of a new ad hoc analysis. It is estimated that this would incur a disproportionate cost in the production of this analysis.

Say what? The Prime Minister claims that 40% of recently arrived EEA nationals are “dependent on the benefit system” on the basis of an analysis that cannot actually distinguish between UK, long-term EEA residents, and actual “recent arrivals”?  I think this is a pretty clear vindication for those of us who were deeply suspicious of the 40% figure at the time, and thought the Prime Minister’s use of it was at best irresponsible, and at worst positively misleading.

Finally, there has not surprisingly been a certain amount of confusion, on twitter and elsewhere, about the relationship between this FOI request (to DWP) and my efforts, still unrewarded, to establish the number of “active” National Insurance numbers and hence go at least some way to explaining the growing divergence between NI numbers issued and the immigration statistics, described here.  While the issues are closely related as regards the data – it all comes from the linking of DWP and HMRC systems – today’s release does not address that. My requests to both DWP and HMRC on this remain outstanding. 

There is, however, a very strong message from Sir Andrew’s letter that it is unacceptable for the government to continue to withhold data  in order to restrict “legitimate public debate about a topic of considerable public interest”. That applies across the board.


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