A couple walk past shops catering for eastern Europeans in Boston, in Lincolnshire. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Romanian and Bulgarian stats show up immigration scaremongering

The lifting of restrictions has had no significant impact on the number working in the UK.

Hold the front page! Britain NOT "swamped" by Romanian and Bulgarian workers, after all. You're unlikely to read about it in many newspapers tomorrow but new figures published today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show what we were told would happen, didn't.

Yes, as expected, the number of Romanian and Bulgarian-born workers in the UK has increased since the beginning of 2013, from 112,000 in the first three months of that year, to 140,000 in the first quarter of 2014. But this represents a fall from the period October-December 2013, when the number of A2-born workers stood at 144,000.

Transitional controls on the working rights of Romanians and Bulgarians were removed on 1 January 2014, giving them full access to the British labour market. Last year, many predicted that this would encourage "floods" of new migrants from these countries to come to the UK, with the most scaremongering literature implying that millions might take advantage of their new rights. Others focused on fears of "benefit tourism", suggesting that large numbers would migrate in order to take advantage of Britain's more generous welfare system.

In response to these concerns, the government rushed through a series of restrictions on the access of European migrants to welfare benefits at the end of 2013. These were purportedly designed to crack down on abuse of the welfare system, although no doubt also reflected fears within government about the increasing unlikelihood that their net migration target will be met before the 2015 general election.

Today's statistics reveal the dangers involved in predictions of this kind. There are more Romanians and Bulgarian workers in the UK than there were a year ago, but early indications suggest that the lifting of restrictions on their ability to work has had no significant impact on the size of these flows. As IPPR and others have argued, many of those who wished to come and work are likely to be here already. The real -and welcome - effect of the end of these controls may simply be that it will be easier for them to find regular employment. Indeed, the rate of A2 migrants in employment has also risen since last year, from 71.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2013 to 76.2 per cent for the same period in 2014.

Meanwhile, the government's restrictions on welfare benefits seem to have had little effect on the desire of European migrants to work and contribute to the UK's economy. The number of UK workers born in the eight countries that joined the EU in 2004 has increased substantially over the past year, from 687,000 in January-March 2013 to 802,000 in the first quarter of 2014. This may reflect higher levels of chain migration from these states, as communities have become more established. Yet with an employment rate of 81.5 per cent (which is much higher than the British-born average), these workers can hardly be characterised as a group of welfare scroungers that have come to live off the state.

Migration to and from the UK will always ebb and flow in response to changing economic and social conditions. It is vital that the government has a good understanding of these flows and the impacts that they can have on local areas. As today's data show, this is where attention should be focused, rather than on making predictions that only serve to scare the public and lower the quality of the UK's migration debate.

Alex Glennie is Senior Research Fellow at IPPR

Alex Glennie is a Senior Research Fellow at IPPR

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It's Gary Lineker 1, the Sun 0

The football hero has found himself at the heart of a Twitter storm over the refugee children debate.

The Mole wonders what sort of topsy-turvy universe we now live in where Gary Lineker is suddenly being called a “political activist” by a Conservative MP? Our favourite big-eared football pundit has found himself in a war of words with the Sun newspaper after wading into the controversy over the age of the refugee children granted entry into Britain from Calais.

Pictures published earlier this week in the right-wing press prompted speculation over the migrants' “true age”, and a Tory MP even went as far as suggesting that these children should have their age verified by dental X-rays. All of which leaves your poor Mole with a deeply furrowed brow. But luckily the British Dental Association was on hand to condemn the idea as unethical, inaccurate and inappropriate. Phew. Thank God for dentists.

Back to old Big Ears, sorry, Saint Gary, who on Wednesday tweeted his outrage over the Murdoch-owned newspaper’s scaremongering coverage of the story. He smacked down the ex-English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson, in a single tweet, calling him a “racist idiot”, and went on to defend his right to express his opinions freely on his feed.

The Sun hit back in traditional form, calling for Lineker to be ousted from his job as host of the BBC’s Match of the Day. The headline they chose? “Out on his ears”, of course, referring to the sporting hero’s most notable assets. In the article, the tabloid lays into Lineker, branding him a “leftie luvvie” and “jug-eared”. The article attacked him for describing those querying the age of the young migrants as “hideously racist” and suggested he had breached BBC guidelines on impartiality.

All of which has prompted calls for a boycott of the Sun and an outpouring of support for Lineker on Twitter. His fellow football hero Stan Collymore waded in, tweeting that he was on “Team Lineker”. Leading the charge against the Murdoch-owned title was the close ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Channel 4 News economics editor, Paul Mason, who tweeted:

Lineker, who is not accustomed to finding himself at the centre of such highly politicised arguments on social media, responded with typical good humour, saying he had received a bit of a “spanking”.

All of which leaves the Mole with renewed respect for Lineker and an uncharacteristic desire to watch this weekend’s Match of the Day to see if any trace of his new activist persona might surface.


I'm a mole, innit.