Jonathan Oliver, London Daily Mail, September 29, 2007
Channel 4 was at the centre of a row last night over a documentary containing new league tables showing which ethnic groups cost taxpayers the most in benefits and council housing.
Tomorrow night’s Dispatches, presented by news anchorman Jon Snow, discloses which immigrant communities are a ‘debit’ and which a ‘credit’ on ‘Britain’s balance sheet’.
The documentary has come under fire from MPs who warn that ranking ethnic minorities according to their contribution to society could fuel ethnic divisions. But Channel 4 hit back, saying the show asked important questions about a ‘major development of our time’ and highlighted the huge contribution made by immigrants.
The league tables were drawn up for Channel 4 by the Left-leaning think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
The tables reveal that people from Iran, Somalia and Bangladesh claim the most unemployment benefit—five per cent of them from each nationality against the average one per cent of Britain’s overall adult population.
The programme says almost 40 per cent of Somalis claim income support, ten times the figure for people born in Britain.
Immigrants from Somalia also top the council house league table—with 80 per cent living in subsidised social housing. The report points out that many Somalis are asylum seekers and come here with little English, making it difficult to find work.
And one in ten Pakistanis claim sickness or disability benefit—almost twice the level of claims by people born in the UK.
The programme, entitled Immigrants: The Inconvenient Truth, focuses on foreign-born groups living in the UK, including Americans and Australians.
It confirms the popular stereotype of the hard-working but cheap Polish tradesman.
Poles work almost the longest hours of almost any ethnic group—they are second only to the Americans—and earn the lowest hourly wage, just £7.30. Only a tiny fraction of Polish people burden the state by claiming benefits.
The organisation mainly used data from the Government’s own quarterly Labour Force Survey. The IPPR ignores black and Asian people born in Britain in its analysis of the 25 most common countries of origin.
The survey reveals that 86 per cent of foreign-born Indians are buying their own homes—higher than the national figure.
It also shows how some ethnic groups are more likely to work in the public services than others. One in two Filipinos, Jamaicans and Nigerians work in the NHS and social services, highlighting just how much our hospitals and care homes rely on immigrants.
Nigerians emerge as one of the highest-educated ethnic groups. The average Nigerian immigrant was 21 when he or she left fulltime education. By contrast the average Portuguese immigrant quit school at 16.
However it is the league tables disclosing the ethnic groups who claim state benefits that are most controversial.
The figures on council housing, for example, risk being exploited by BNP extremists who stir up trouble by claiming that new immigrants go to the front of the local authority queue ahead of white families.
Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: ‘I would be very concerned at any programme which might turn immigrant groups against each other. Putting different ethnic groups into league tables is not the best way of securing an integrated society.’
The criticism comes after a previous row when Channel 4’s Celebrity Big Brother broadcast racist insults against Indian actress Shilpa Shetty.
Mr Snow defended tomorrow’s documentary by saying: ‘Most people will be pleased that somebody is prepared to look at the facts. Immigration is a major development of our time. It is a healthy thing to know where it benefits and where it hinders our society.’
An IPPR spokesman said: ‘This is not an attempt to play migrant groups off against each other—these figures are just averages.
‘But all we ever hear about is migrants’ use of benefits and council housing, we never hear about how much they pay in taxes or how many of them work in the NHS and in care homes.
‘This report shows a more complete picture. On most criteria, most immigrant groups do better, on economic terms, than people born in the UK.’