Data on EU migration would be too expensive to "collate", government says

The government’s partial and selective release of some data on EU migrants and in-work benefits has been widely reported.  What has been released is enough to make it still more obvious that the Prime Minister’s claim that 40 percent of recent migrants were “dependent on benefits” was, at best highly misleading.

However, the benefits data is in some sense a sideshow. What has attracted less attention is that the government is still concealing rather more important information on the levels of recent EU migration.  As I set out here, I asked DWP and HMRC to tell me how many of the approximately 2 million or so National Insurance numbers that have been issued to EU nationals over the past 4 years are “active” – that is, showed recent payments of income tax, NI, or benefit claims, which would give us important new information on actual migration levels. The latest response from HMRC to me says:

The information you have requested on PAYE and National Insurance contributions paid by these individuals is held by HMRC but not in the format you have requested. We estimate that it would exceed the FOIA cost limit to collate the information into a publishable format. The FOIA cost limit, which is specified in regulations, equates to one person spending 3½ working days locating and extracting all of the information within scope of the request.

In other words, the government has data on the number of recent EU migrants, which would shed considerable light on possibly the most important (and certainly the highest profile) issue in what is certainly the most important electoral campaign in the UK in recent memory. And its justification for not publishing it?  That it would take more than 3 ½ working days of one civil servant’s time.

Perhaps we should no longer be surprised by this behaviour. The only question is whether our elected representatives will stand for it. 

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