Author: STEVE DOUGHTY SOCIAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT FOR THE DAILY MAIL
Officials are to use benefits and taxes to get a more accurate tally of the number of migrants in the UK, a Whitehall report revealed yesterday.
Traditional methods of counting immigration had failed to keep up and the main survey behind official immigration figures had been ‘stretched beyond its original purpose’, the report said.
Beginning later this year, a new system for estimating immigration, emigration and the size of the population will be based on records of who is claiming benefits, paying income or council tax, signing on with GPs, going to universities, or sending their children to school.
Four out of five foreign citizens living in Britain can be traced because they claim benefits, declare income, or are on the PAYE tax register, the paper from the Office for National Statistics said.
Even commercial information held by businesses may be used to complete the new immigration figures.
Although yesterday’s report did not specify what data may be examined, the ONS has already said that mobile phone records collected by Vodafone could be used in the next national census in 2021.
The report is the first full Whitehall admission that the official figures over the past 20 years of large-scale immigration have been unreliable and new ways to count migration must be found.
Until now, immigration figures have been almost entirely based on the International Passenger Survey (IPS) at ports and airports. The survey asks 800,000 people each year where they are going, why, and for how long, but it covers only 0.34 per cent of the 240 million people who enter or leave Britain each year.
The latest ONS migration report says that in the year to June 2018, the key figure for net migration – the number by which immigrants exceeded emigrants – was 273,000.
But a migration report published in November said the figure might be wrong by almost 25,000 either way.
Yesterday’s paper said: ‘The IPS has been stretched beyond its original purpose and we need to consider all available sources to fully understand international migration.
‘No single source of information can tell us everything our users want to know, or fully reflect the complexity of our changing population.’
Acknowledging that immigration had a major effect on everyday life in Britain, it added that there was a ‘need to tell an understandable story about what is contributing to this change and show how different groups in the population impact on society and the economy’.
Among state records that may be tapped to produce the new figures, likely to be published for the first time this year, are Department of Work and Pensions benefits data, PAYE and tax self-assessment rolls, council tax registers, NHS figures from GP surgeries and on hospital admissions, school censuses and university and college records, and information from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the Electoral Register.
The passenger survey, which costs taxpayers about £6 million a year, will continue to be used as part of the new system.
The most recent assessment of the scale of immigration was put out by the ONS in November. It said there were just under 9.4 million people born abroad –the accepted best definition of who is an immigrant – among a population of just over 66 million in 2017.
In 2007, the figure was 6.4 million foreign-born people out of a total of 61.3 million.