Fraser Nelson massages new figures to rehash old, discredited argument


What do Boris Johnson, Kevin Pietersen, and James Caan have in common? They are all British citizens working and paying taxes in the UK who were born abroad. Precisely the problem group that Fraser Nelson is targetting in his latest pernicious and inaccurate analysis of Britain’s labour market.

The Coffee House blog today trails an interview with Iain Duncan Smith with the shock finding that “154 per cent of the employment increase can be accounted for by foreign-born workers”. But Fraser Nelson is using two tricks to inflate his figure which he’s been caught using before.

First, he has excluded pensioners returning to work. He claims that the ONS’ figures are “distorted” by the inclusion of OAPs without giving any justification for this claim. Surely in an ageing society where Government is extending the retirement age, it seems completely reasonable to include over-65s. Perhaps the exclusion took place to help massage the numbers. Including pensioners, the percentage of jobs taken by non-UK born workers falls from 154 per cent to 120 per cent.

But second, Nelson’s statistics only look at foreign-born workers. The list above, which includes his friend and predecessor, Boris Johnson, were all foreign-born yet hold British passports. When we look at nationality rather than country of birth (and include pensioners), the figures change dramatically and the percentage of jobs taken by non-Brits falls to 69 per cent. Indeed, using this more accurate measure, the number of British workers in employment has actually increased by 71,000 over the last year.

Employment increase (last year) Total UK Non-UK Percent to non-UK
Nelson’s claim (by country of birth) 181,000 -99,000 278,000 154%
Including pensioners 241,000 -50,000 289,000 120%
By nationality (+ pensioners) 241,000 71,000 166,000 69%

Readers may still be concerned that over two-thirds of the employment increases over the last year have gone to workers without British citizenship. But it’s worth considering two further points. First, a foreigner getting a new job does not necessarily take a job away from a domestic worker. This is called the ‘lump of labour fallacy‘ and has been widely debunked. Second, the steps needed to reduce the number even further are pretty tricky given that, of the 166,000 employment increase from non-British workers, 140,000 come from the European Union. Any attempt to restrict their free movement of labour would mean that British citizens would be unable to work in Paris, Madrid or Rome.

The irony is that we’ve been before, when the Spectator originally carried out this exercise in April 2010 looking at Labour’s record, Left Foot Forward issued a response pointing out these self-same flaws in Nelson’s methodology. In a grovelling update to a separate post, Nelson wrote:

“A rival version of this study has been posted by two TUC officials, looking at nationality rather than country of birth. This sharply reduces the percentage – because many immigrants hold UK passports. A perfectly valid exercise by the TUC, buy [sic] immigrants have British passports too.

“Then there’s the Boris factor. He was born in New York. So my study would include little Boris’s. No definition of “immigrant” is perfect. But foreign-born is the best you’ll get, which is why it is used by Eurostat. The number of foreign-born has doubled in Britain – something tells me  that’s not due to a rush of mothers flying off to Dublin hospitals and coming back with the baby as hand luggage.

“Finally, my original post had both working-age (99 percent of new jobs to foreign-born) and another version of all ages over 16 (including pensioners). This reduces it to 72 percent as there have been fewer pension-age immigrants.”

Far from updating his methodology, Nelson has repeated his previous error – disappointingly massaging new stats to fit an old and discredited argument.

NB: All the relevant data I’ve used is available in Table 8 of today’s ONS release.

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  • Dave Citizen

    While I think you are right to expose this Nelson bloke for distorting the facts to serve his usual right wing agenda, I’m slightly concerned that you may be doing something along similar lines yourself.

    My experience convinces me that buisnesses are often only too ready to employ immigrants where it enables them to make more money, regardless of the impact on our communities or wider society.

    When a Hotel I know got rid of its local workers and brought in a team of Eastern Europeans who slept in dorms that were paid for by additional hours to get around minimum wage rules, I don’t think the interests of the community were top of the agenda. Or when I walk onto a building site to find only one out of perhaps 15 speaks English is it really because British workers wouldn’t do the work well? No, it’s about some narrow business interests riding rough shod over the interests of the communities they operate in.

    Rather than hide behind EU rules why not attack decisions that put narrow short term profit before the national interest – maybe then we will make our own trains and ensure we employ our unemployed first because we know it makes good sense for everyone rather than just a tiny few.

  • jenny Smith

    I keep wondering when they produce these stats if they are including children born to Service people overseas. If so out of our four, one was born in the UK, two in Cyprus and one in Germany. Making out of a family of 6 1/2 born out of the UK. Despite them having British parents.

  • Robert

    I worked in the building trade all my life, now of course everything is done with sub contract Labour, my brother who still does some work, but he lost his hand in an accident, said British workers simple cannot work for the money these people are working for. Painting a three bedroom house including material £145, electrical work for a new house £800 including material just ridiculas prices but these people come it’s cash in hand because of the sub contract and these people are gone in a year money and all.

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  • Jamie Jenkins

    There is an ONS video explaining the changes in non-uk born employment here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsvZapOB1eo

  • Anon E Mouse

    Dave Citizen & Robert – I would also add that the worst effect has been on the skilled trades.

    My mates are all plumbers, chippys – that type and what has happened is the Poles will work for minimum wage but do a skilled job at that price.

    So instead of the electrician getting £30/£40 an hour it is now done for £8 by the Poles and who could blame someone for contracting them?

    The minimum wage, coupled with the Labour open doors policy of uncontrolled immigration has been a total disaster for our country…

  • don

    regardless of the actual figures why are you so keen to continue with this ? why keep defending what is going on. it is clearly not good for the country. i cant understand why people that claim to be left are so in love with the current situation. it is bizarre.

  • Dave Citizen

    Anon – my example was of an employer getting round minimum wage even. I don’t really get your minimum wage angle – if it was not there then surely even more jobs, not just the better paid ones, would get under cut. I guess the share holder interests are always one step ahead and free movement of labour is their answer to attempts to push up the lower end of the wages market.

    I think we need to be prepared to consider that what is good for profits is not always good for the majority of people or the health of our society in general. The only remedy I can see is to move to a much more equal society so the owners of business are more connected to the communities their businesses operate in and therefore they are more likely to do what’s in their communities interests.

    International investment portfolios holding shares in ‘Chuck a House up Quick’ couldn’t give a stuff.

  • http://davidaslindsay.blogspot.com David Lindsay

    The Mail on Sunday hit the nail on the head: jobs go to the better-educated people from Eastern Europe, “where the Sixties never happened”. And not only the Sixties, but also and inseparably the Eighties.

    The decadent social libertinism of the 1960s did in fact set the scene for the extension of the same principles into the economic sphere, and thus their entrenchment by, in, through and as the decadent economic libertinism of the 1980s. Here in Britain, the same Oliver Smedley who bankrolled the union-busting, drugs-and-promiscuity-promoting criminality that was pirate radio, went on to bankroll the proto-Thatcherite Institute of Economic Affairs. You cannot believe in the “free” market unless you believe in unregulated drinking and gambling, and in legal access to drugs, prostitution and pornography. Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Foundation is a major financial backer of efforts to retain abortion on demand up to and including partial birth in the United States, and it funds “Catholics for a Free Choice”, as that organisation’s own accounts make clear. More than shades of Alfred C Kinsey’s funding by organised vice.

    Whereas Russia is now emerging from the gangster capitalism that has followed Communism. She once again recognises herself as pre-eminent among the Slavs in their mission as the age-old gatekeepers of our Biblical-Classical civilisation, whether against Islam, against Far Eastern domination, or now also against the godless, rootless, stupefied, promiscuous, usury-based, metrosexual, war-hungry pseudo-West that holds up Israel, Georgia and Taiwan as supposedly plucky and inspiring outposts.

    Attempts to drag Russia into the pseudo-West were not only always doomed, although guaranteed to cause immense pain in being proved so, but they also failed to take account of the seeds of hope even within the Soviet system as such, notably the strong patriotism, and the very traditional system of education, in which teachers who were universally assumed to know more than their pupils stood in front of orderly rows of uniformed young charges and simply imparted their knowledge, with the result that, once the veneer of Marxist vocabulary was stripped away, that system’s products were often significantly better-educated than many of their Western contemporaries.

    And just as pre-Communist Russia always remained the country’s true character, so very pre-Communist China remains the country’s true character. That character reveres tradition and ritual, upholds government by moral rather than physical force, affirms the Golden Rule, is Agrarian and Distributist, and has barely started an external war since China became China five thousand years ago. It is especially open to completion by, in, through and as classical Christianity. China has already moved from Maoism to the equal repressiveness of unbridled capitalism. The reassertion of her own culture is to be encouraged by every means of “soft” (in reality, truly hard) power, and the same is true of the wider Confucian world. But economic, or any other, dependence on a foreign power remains totally unacceptable.

    The Friedman-courting, not to say race-baiting, Carter Administration, whence came Madeleine Albright and the late Richard Holbrooke, was particularly bad for abusing the noble cause of anti-Communism by emphasising Soviet human rights abuses while ignoring Chinese and Romanian ones. It even happily allowed the Chinese-backed Pol Pot to retain control of the Cambodian seat at the UN after Phnom Penh had fallen to the rival forces backed by Vietnam and therefore by the Soviet Union. Similar paw prints were also evident on Margaret Thatcher’s holding out for the Chinese-backed Robert Mugabe, for whom she arranged a knighthood, as if he would have been any better than the Soviet-backed Joshua Nkomo.

    Margaret Thatcher, who as Education Secretary closed so many grammar schools that there were not enough left at the end for her record ever to be equalled, and who as Prime Minister replaced O-levels with GCSEs. There was certainly no fine art in her railway stations.

  • Richard

    Another made up anecdote by the Mickey Mouse.

  • don

    richard – why is it made up? it meets with my expereince. also matched that of a relative. a plumber who has not not put up his prices for 7 years now. also is restruicted to domestic work, which requires a certaibn qualification, as the site work is dominated by low paid A8 nationals.

    Carry on denying reality.

  • http://ecologicalheadstand.blogspot.com Sandwichman

    “This is called the ‘lump of labour fallacy‘ and has been widely debunked.”

    I am afraid it is the fallacy CLAIM that has been debunked, not the bogus “fallacy,” the claim of which has indeed been widely repeated. Among debunkers of the claim were A.C. Pigou and Maurice Dobb. Back in May, I summarized the strange history of the fallacy claim in a letter to Paul Krugman:

    http://ecologicalheadstand.blogspot.com/2011/05/open-letter-to-paul-krugman.html

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