Migration Watch’s latest assessment of the impact of migration on housing was only noticed by much of the media when Frank Field MP suddenly decided to use its ‘evidence’ to back his own ideas about how social housing should be allocated. Migration Watch’s line was – as usual – that migrants are getting far too much social housing, especially in London. By the time that Field started quoting the figures, they apparently showed that ‘that nearly half of new tenants in some parts of the capital were born abroad’. He used this to justify an argument that those ‘who have made most contribution to society, who have paid their taxes and whose children have not caused trouble’ should be pushed to the front of the housing queue. Before we leave Frank Field alone with his proposals – which have been welcomed in some quarters and in any case are reflected in the latest guidance on housing allocations, we might ask him what he has got against migrants, given that there is no evidence that they fail to ‘contribute’, pay their taxes or supervise their children?
Back to Migration Watch and their findings about housing in London. It is a feature of their reports that the background documents they produce are broadly accurate but often omit or underplay the key provisos about the data they use. The problem comes when their press releases are then picked up by the media, who seem not only to take Migration Watch at face value but almost assume they are underplaying (not exaggerating) the true state of affairs.
The best recent source of data on social housing and its use by migrants is the Migration Observatory – but of course Migration Watch doesn’t use that. Migration Observatory published a briefing on housing last year. It showed that recent migrants are overwhelmingly in the private rented sector, as expected, but that long-standing migrants are about as likely to be in social housing as are UK nationals. It also used what are known as ‘CORE’ data to show that 7.7% of new social lettings go to households with a foreign ‘reference person’ (usually the head of the household).
The difficulty is that CORE is a survey that was invented for housing associations, and while all associations use it and provide the data, it has been introduced for local authorities and their council housing relatively recently. Some councils do not provide CORE data, and others collect it only partially, so that it only covers about 60% of council lettings. Furthermore, even where CORE coverage is good, many applicants aren’t asked for their nationality or fail to give it, so there are big gaps in the figures on lettings to UK v. foreign applicants. Nevertheless, Migration Watch has delved into the data for individual London boroughs, and come up with headline-grabbing figures.
First of all, Migration Watch (correctly) reports that in both inner and outer London, 11% of new lettings go to foreign nationals. This is a bit higher than the national average but is hardly surprising given the make-up of London’s population. However, Migration Watch adds to that the figures (in inner London 16% and in outer London 7%) of tenants who have not revealed their nationality, to argue that ‘only’ 73% of lettings in inner London go to UK nationals, and in outer London 82%. This is bizarre, since of course it is UK applicants who are much more likely not to have been asked for their nationality. Foreign nationals are likely to have revealed it when proving their immigration status. We can in fact therefore be reasonable sure that 89% of new London lettings are going to UK-born applicants, even though one-third of London’s population is foreign born. Migrants are getting a far smaller proportion of the lettings than might be thought – obviously because many do not qualify or haven’t been here long enough to be offered a house.
Migration Watch go on to look at the figures for individual boroughs, and this is where the misleading headline figures arise. In some boroughs less than half of new lettings are ‘known’ to go to British nationals – but this is because CORE data only cover a proportion of all lettings. In Newham, for example, CORE says that only 6% of lettings going to foreign nationals, but Migration Watch say the figures show that only 37% of lettings can be ‘confirmed’ as going to UK nationals, because of the gaps in the data. But given that even they do not challenge the overall London figures, it follows that if some boroughs allocate more than the average proportions of houses to foreign nationals, then other boroughs are allocating far lower proportions.
It’s true that the statistics are a bit of a mess, and given the pressures on London housing authorities it is not surprising that the records – which are not compulsory – are incomplete. But overall there is nothing to suggest that the figure of 11% of London lettings going to foreign nationals is wrong. The fact that this is slightly higher than the national average is not at all surprising given London’s population. Indeed, migrants are getting less social housing than might be expected – because the rules make them wait. Once again, Migration Watch quote figures out of context, and MPs like Frank Field should know better than to take them at face value.
Original post and comments: Migration Pulse