Friday 31 March 2023

Sunak and simple algebra


The Prime Minister has told us previously of his concern about the fact that so many people have a poor grasp of mathematics. His own government is far from immune from the problem. They announced this week that they would be moving asylum-seekers into former military camps in order to save money on hotel bills, but a little bit of simple algebra is all it takes to throw more than a few small doubts over that claim. Perhaps I can help a little. If x is the reduction in the number of migrants staying in hotels, then the factors in the equation are as follows:

·        Let a be the number in hotels at the outset,

·        Let b be the number given leave to remain,

·        Let c be the number deported,

·        Let d be the number moved to former military camps, and

·        Let e be the additional number detained over the coming 12 months.

That gives us a simple equation: x (or the reduction in a) = b + c + d - e.

And we can put rough numbers to those factors. We know that a is approximately 51,000, because the government has told us so. We know that, of those whose cases are assessed, more than 80% end up being given leave to remain, but we also know that over a 12 month period, not all those cases will be assessed because there is a huge backlog. Some estimates suggest that the proportion of those 51,000 whose claims will be assessed in the next 6 months could be as low as 10% based on current performance, but let us assume that the government actually manages a huge improvement and deals with just over 50% in a year, or 26,000. Of those around 20,800 (b) would be given leave to remain, with the remaining 5,200 earmarked for deportation. Except that the status of the Rwanda deal is such that it is unlikely that anyone will be deported there in the near future, and there are no other returns agreements in place other than that with Albania, so the number of deportations (c) is likely to be close to zero. The three former military camps are reported to be able to house up to around 3,000 each at most, so d is maybe 9,000. Finally, the move to detain all arrivals in future, at the current rate of arrivals, gives us an extra 50,000 a year (e), a number which, due to climate change, famine and war, to say nothing of reductions in overseas aid, is likely only to increase.

That gives us x = 20,800 + 0 + 9,000 - 50,000, or a grand total of -20200. In other words (because the answer is a negative number) the number requiring to be housed in hotels will go up, rather than down. And substantially so. One can vary the assumptions and guesses, of course – but there is no credible set of assumptions which doesn’t result in a negative reduction – except for those which depend on magical thinking rather than mathematics and logic. Eliminating the backlog by the end of the year, deporting 20,000 plus each year – these are the assumptions of fantasists. But the biggest fantasy of all is that housing people in camps, or on boats, and reducing the provision for them to the bare minimum to sustain their existence is going to lead them to decide to stay in places ravaged by war, hunger and poverty when they can see that a better life is possible.

I suspect that the government’s justification for making the provision more basic, i.e. that it is unfair to give migrants more help than we give ‘to our own’, will strike a chord with some. It’s repeating a line that I read far too often on various social media; it’s a way of breeding and encouraging resentment against others. Divide and rule. We should remember, though, that if two groups are being treated unequally, bringing the one down to the level of the other isn’t the only way of achieving an equitable balance. Why is the provision for ‘our own’ so basic in the first place? We could even give the alternative approach a fancy name – something like ‘levelling up’ perhaps?

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