UK immigration report criticised over benefit figures

- Posted in United Kingdom by Visa Bureauon 27 January 2012

The report, released last week, was claimed to be the first ever attempt by a British government to estimate the nationalities of people claiming benefits; using a representative sample it estimated that 371,000 foreign nationals were claiming benefits. Although it stated that over half had since gained their citizenship, it claimed that 2% of claimants were thought to be taking advantage of the UK immigration system and illegally claiming benefits.

Now however, Sir Michael Scholar, head of the UK Statistics Authority has questioned why the figures were released without having first been verified by professionals who abide by the strict rules which govern the release of official statistics.

The ministers for employment and immigration, Chris Grayling and Damian Green, published a comment piece before the report's findings were released in which they claimed the government had already begun making plans to "streamline the rules" to limit benefit fraud as well as locate several identified migrants without a valid UK visa which would allow them to claim benefits.

In a letter to the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, Sir Scholar said the figures contained within the report should have been verified due to the public interest; this would mean ministers would not have been able to check the numbers before the public. Sir Scholar says this lack in verification has led to much misinterpretation of the figures:

"Many users have treated them as official statistics, and assumed that they should have been published in accordance with the Code of Practice, which would, amongst other things, have prevented government ministers from issuing a political commentary on the statistics ahead of their publication."

In response, Mr Duncan Smith has defended the publication and claimed that no rules were broken in the way the figures were presented:

"The release was prepared by the department's statisticians to appropriate professionals. The report includes all relevant information about the sources of the data and any caveats or limitations."

Sir Scholar has now asked the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to agree that any future statistics on the nationalities of benefit claimants should be handled by the UK Statistics Authority so they can be presented factually and in a nonpartisan manner.

The UK Visa Bureau is an independent UK immigration consultancy specialising in helping people prepare for their UK Ancestry Visa application.