Government ministers are creating the impression that hundreds of thousands of migrants are arriving to claim benefits. Don Flynn of Migrants Rights Network argues this picture is a distortion of the truth.

UK BorderStrange, but I’d thought we’d plumbed the depths of calumny and distortion around this business of migration and the economy. But employment minister Chris Grayling and immigration minister Damian Green have shown that there are always a few metres even further to go into the slime and detritus of the ‘public conversation’ in their article in the Daily Telegraph this morning.

Whipping up a storm of innuendo and misrepresentation, they link students, tourists and people ‘coming in the backs of lorries’ to the fact that 370,000 claiming work-related social security benefits were born abroad.

For many of the ministers’ readers there will be no need to go beyond these opening sentences of their article – enough said, and the damage done. We have been given a picture which shows hundreds of thousands arriving and marching straight down to the job centres and getting their slice of a public pie at the taxpayers expense. What a scandal, the world’s gone mad.

Reality check

Of this 370,000, over one-half are actually British citizens. They didn’t arrive here yesterday – many will have come ten, twenty or more years ago, and are fully a part of British society.

Another point: 370,000 sounds like a big figure, but it represents a fraction of just over 6% of the 5.5 million people in receipt of these benefits. Not such a large figure after all.

It might also be worth mentioning that people born abroad make up around 14% of the UK workforce. If they were represented in that proportion amongst benefit claimants we’d need around one million more of these ‘foreigners’ to get down to the dole queue and sign on.

The statistics the ministers are quoting also say nothing about the real cost of the benefits claimants – both foreign-born and native – to the public purse. It’s all very well saying on such-and-such a date 6% of social welfare recipients were born abroad, but how many were amongst the long-term unemployed, and how many just needed help for a month or so before their next job turned up?

Anyone closer to the ground in this debate knows that benefits are only paid out when strict tests of entitlement are gone through by social security officials. Most non-EU migrants who have arrived within the previous five years (two years if the spouse or partner of a person settled here) are barred from receiving the large number of income-related, child and incapacity benefits which figure of the immigration rule’s ‘public funds’ list.

Even EU nationals, who are supposed to have the same rights as UK citizens in these matters, have to have been in employment or self-employment, or the partners of someone who has, and to show that they are ‘habitually resident’ in the UK before they receive benefits.

The Daily Telegraph article winds down to the conclusion, which most people will never get to, that these foreign-born claimants are receiving no more than they are entitled to under the law. Even here messrs Grayling and Green cannot resist the dig that, may be, 2% are receiving payments to which they are not entitled. May be, may be not – your guess is as good as mine.

The term ‘garbage in, garbage out’ is much used nowadays to describe the sort of dodgy statistical analysis which we normally associate with the outpourings of Migration Watch UK. Ministers of State now seem to have caught this bug and are quite happy to spin feeble grasp of figures into stories which catch headlines and are taken up over the airwaves.

But when so much of the news about the economy and unemployment is as dire as it is, and the tsunami of joblessness that is now sweeping over us is associated with government-induced austerity measures, is it any surprise that some of its ministers would want to leap into the lifeboat labelled ‘In the event of emergency, blame immigrants.’

From the Migrants Rights Network website