Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thousands of migrants 'disappear' in British cities under new official counting system

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have ‘disappeared’ at the stroke of a pen under a new official counting system. The method has led to apparent large falls in the numbers of migrants thought to live in London and other major cities.

The change has provoked fury among council leaders who say the immigrant populations of their districts have been grossly underestimated by government statisticians.

Westminster and Kensington in London, Manchester, Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge are among places thought to have had their estimated populations reduced by many thousands by the Office for National Statistics.

Colin Barrow, Tory leader of Westminster, said: ‘After four years of work supposedly improving migration estimates, the ONS apparently still has little idea how many migrants are in this country or where they live and work.

‘Our incoming migrant population appears to have dropped by 17 per cent over four years; you only have to go out into the bars and restaurants in the West End to see that migrants come to Westminster to live and work in much greater numbers than this.’

More than nine out of ten migrants to the UK live in England, which has become the sixth most crowded major country in the world, the MigrationWatch think-tank said last week. Last year net migration was 239,000.

The new estimates method, to be used from next year onwards, uses the same source of immigration statistics the ONS has always used. This is the International Passenger Survey, a check on intentions of arrivals at air and sea ports and on the Eurostar.

From this researchers use a complex formula, based on other official population databases, to estimate the number of yearly arrivals.

Under the new method, this formula has been tweaked, resulting in changes to the estimated numbers arriving at certain towns and cities. Some have fallen while others have risen, but the total remains unchanged.

Westminster’s migrant population has been reduced by 10,000, and Manchester’s and Bristol’s each by 30,000. According to ONS briefing papers, Kensington and Chelsea, Oxford and Cambridge have had ‘quite large downward revisions’.

Mr Barrow said: ‘We would seriously question the estimate that fewer than 4,000 migrants came to Westminster in the 2009 financial year to seek work. 'We have seen more people registering with doctors and paying council tax in Westminster, so we fail to understand how the government statisticians can be so wrong.’

Councils can lose millions in Treasury grants if Whitehall cuts their population estimates.

The ONS was scheduled to publish papers about the new migration counting system last week, but failed to do so. Some places are said to show a higher count, such as Newham, East London, with a 13 per cent increase. The ONS declined to comment yesterday.


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