This recent article contains some pretty brazen duplicity, even by the standards of the Daily Mail.
The newspaper has been at the forefront of a campaign by the British right-wing tabloid press over the last few years to portray immigrants from new EU countries – particularly Poles, who make up the largest group – as ‘benefit tourists’, coming to Britain not to work but to claim social welfare. (The Daily Express and the Sun also deserve special mention, the latter of which rather amusingly had to admit its dishonesty.)
These newspapers did so despite all the evidence that this ‘problem’ barely exists, as only a small fraction of EU immigrants claim benefits, and most of those are also working and paying taxes.
Yet now that David Cameron has responded to this pressure by agreeing a deal with the EU that will allow the government to stop paying benefits to new arrivals, the same Eurosceptic media need a new reason to encourage people to vote to leave the union at next month’s referendum.
So, in a shameless reversal of its previous position, the Daily Mail now points to a new report showing that EU immigrants claim very little in benefits. What the newspaper describes as a ‘revelation’ is in fact no different from the previous research that it has ignored or downplayed because it didn’t fit its narrative at the time. But now such evidence is useful to the Mail, as it demonstrates that Cameron’s EU benefits deal (which the Mail itself demanded in the past) is actually worthless because it will do nothing to reduce immigration (which can, the newspaper now claims, only be achieved by leaving the EU entirely).
This is, of course, precisely the argument that I (and others) have long been making against the ‘benefit tourist’ scaremongering. As I wrote in the blog earlier this year:
‘[The proposed benefit cut for EU immigrants] is unfair: anyone who works, pays taxes and contributes to the British economy should have the same right as others to claim benefits. It is poorly targeted: EU immigrants generally, and Polish immigrants in particular, are more likely to work and less likely to claim benefits than just about any other group in Britain (including – indeed especially – the natives). And it is pointless: there is little chance it will deter future immigrants, which is supposedly its purpose.’
And last year:
‘[This] is, unfortunately, highly indicative of the populist, irrational and superficial way in which British politicians and the media respond to legitimate public concern at mass immigration.’
It’s good to see that the Daily Mail now acknowledges the facts, although this is of course less a genuine change of heart (and certainly not a confession of earlier inaccuracy) than it is a cynical response to current political circumstances.