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A couple of news articles in the past few days caught my eye, one from The Telegraph and one from The Daily Mail.  Both articles focus on the same subject – the number of non-uk citizens claiming benefits, particularly Jobseekers Allowance.  Both articles also share another feature; neither cite their sources.  Both report various figures, such as this from The Telegraph:

New figures showed there were 407,000 non-UK nationals receiving the hand-outs last year, a rise of more than 118,000 since 2008, with the total bill running to hundreds of millions of pounds a year.

And this from the Mail:

Latest figures show that in February 9.2 per cent of all Jobseekers Allowance claimants were non-UK nationals.

It includes 35,000 from the EU, 35,000 from Africa, 33,000 from Asia and the Middle East and 6,500 from the Americas.

Poland tops the league table with 14,610 JSA claimants, followed by Pakistan 7,660, Somalia 7,120 and Portugal 5,860.

We are told that the figures in the Telegraph article come from a freedom of information request, but no other information is provided, whilst the Mail article is completely source free.  This makes it very difficult to verify the accuracy of the information provided, but it does seem fishy.

The most recent data that I can find that looks at country of origin and claiming Jobseekers comes from the thrilling titled Nationality at point of National Insurance number registration of DWP benefit claimants: February 2011 working age benefits, published by the DWP.  Some of the figures in the Telegraph and Daily Mail report are not to far away from the figures in the DWP report, although figure 4 shows that there were 6,390 Polish JSA claimants, rather than the 14,610 as claimed in the Mail’s article.

This might seem unimportant, but it is vitally important that the public can check the veracity of information in newspapers and other sources, particularly on such important issues as immigration and benefits.  This is all the more so, given that the underlying tone of both articles is ‘damn foreigners coming over here and stealing our benefits’.

It is worth addressing that last point in more detail – do foreigners claim benefits at a higher rate than UK citizens.  Latest figures show that there are 1,351,100 job seekers claimants in the UK, and a population of 63,705,000.  This means that 2.1% of the population claims JSA.  According to the Office for National statistics there were 686,540 Polish people living in the UK in 2011, of which 22,597 were unemployed.  If we assume that all 22,597 of the unemployed Poles claimed JSA (which is highly unlikely), that equates to 3.3% of the Polish population, and if we use the Daily Mail’s figure of 14,610, it equates to 2.1% of Poles in the UK claiming JSA.

Now, there are lots of caveats to these rough calculations (they are based on total population, not working age population, the figures on Poles in the UK are a couple of years out of date, etc.), however, they do give a very strong indication that the percentage of Polish people in the UK claiming Jobseekers Allowance is not very different to the percentage of all the people in the UK claiming JSA. This shows that there are not massive hordes of foreigners coming over to Britain to take benefits away from UK citizens, and exposes the ignorance of the majority of the commenters on the article on the Daily Mail website.

If the Daily Mail and the The Telegraph provided a link to their sources it would be much easier for the average reader to check the facts and figures. More detailed analysis would also compare the rates that foreigners and UK citizens claim JSA. Sadly, however, this kind of shoddy reporting and uncontextualised analysis is far too common in the media and exposing this is one of the aims of this blog.