Immigration Figures ‘Are False’

Immigration figures 'are false'

Councils say the government's statistics are seriously underestimating the total influx and they need more money to cope

Jamie Doward and Helen McKenna
Sunday April 29, 2007
The Observer

Councils are so concerned that official figures are failing to record the true number of migrants entering their area that they are to start their own polling to gauge the scale of the influx.

This is a serious embarrassment to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which has tried to play down concerns that its estimates for the number of people entering the UK are badly flawed.

Although the office plans to improve its methods for tracking immigration, critics say the new way of counting migrants was equally problematic. The critics point out that, under the new calculations, the number entering London supposedly decreased by 60,000 between 2002 and 2005 – the most up-to-date records available – though most experts say they actually increased. Councils in and around the capital claim the rise in immigrants is placing greater pressure on services and is starting to have an impact on their finances.

'We are so concerned that these official statistics still do not properly count those coming in to the UK that we will be commissioning our own independent polls,' said Colin Barrow, deputy leader at Westminster council. 'This will give a more accurate picture of the situation on the streets in central London.'

Other councils echoed Westminster's concerns, saying they had experienced significant increases in immigration which appeared to be at odds with official estimates.

'Our electoral register has gone up by 23,000 over the past few years yet they're saying it's gone down,' said Sir Robin Wales, mayor of Newham, east London. 'It's ludicrous. We've nothing against migration – it is great for the economy and great for Newham. However, it needs to be properly funded. We would be willing to pay for a census just to rectify these figures. It would cost us a lot of money, but these inaccurate figures are costing us even more.'

The office estimates that Slough has received 1,100 extra migrants since 2002. But the local council estimates that at least 10,000 Polish people alone have arrived to work in the town since 2004.

'The migrants that come to Slough are hard working and bring great benefit to the local economy but the council remains severely underfunded because of these poor statistics,' said Andrew Blake-Herbert, strategic director of finance and property at Slough Council.

The ONS has previously acknowledged problems in the way it counts migrants. In May 2006, Karen Dunnell, National Statistician there, wrote to four government departments stating: 'There is now broad agreement that available estimates of migrant numbers are inadequate for managing the economy, policies and services.' And earlier this month the Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne, said the ONS needed to improve its figures on which key local financing decisions are based.

Critics say the office's figures are also at odds with those collated by the government. Migration figures released by the ONS earlier this month suggested that approximately 56,000 Poles entered the UK in 2005, although the Department for Work and Pensions has issued figures suggesting that over 170,000 Polish citizens applied for National Insurance numbers in the same year.

Stung by criticism, the ONS will use details from the quarterly Labour Force Survey, which selects households at random to provide a population snapshot, rather than relying on interviewing people entering ports and airports.

But councils are not convinced. 'The government's new figures suggest we have fewer migrants than three years ago,' said Councillor Mark Loveday, cabinet member for strategy at Hammersmith and Fulham council. National Insurance registrations by people from countries which recently joined the European Union 'are up by more than 550 per cent and that's before other migrants are counted'.

An ONS spokesman said its method for counting people at ports of entry ensured a reflective snapshot of population flows in and out of the UK.


Special report
Immigration, asylum and refugees

Immigration, asylum and refugees: archived articles

Home Office: Immigration and Nationality Directorate
Human Rights Watch: refugees
International Committee of the Red Cross: refugees
Moving Here
Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002
Refugee Council
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants