A new item on the Independent website sends me into a slough of despond. It’s a report that the European Commission has warned the UK government that the benefits rule that limits benefits to people with a “right to reside” in the UK is probably contrary to EU law.
Let’s be clear, the “right to reside” rule wasn’t invented by the current government, it was brought in by their predecessors. And one of the reasons I’m so depressed is that I can remember several people saying to officials that this new rule looked like it was in breach of EU law. Oh no, we were told, this just showed how little we knew; government lawyers, who were experts were confident there was no problem.
But twittery is bi-partisan: the story quotes Tory MEP Julie Girling, who plainly enjoys seeing her name in the papers even when she’s less than fully up-to-date on a subject:
British taxpayers will want to know why their hard-earned money should now be directed straight into the pockets of any EU national who chooses to come here and make a claim.
This can only lead to a boom in benefits tourism. And with our generous system, Britain will be destination of choice.
That generous benefit system, just how generous is it? Well, as it happens, the OECD’s database has fairly recent data (2007) on replacement rates across the industrialised world (for people who were paid between two-thirds and 100% of average earnings when they lost their jobs):
The notion that Eastern Europeans are travelling across Germany and France, ignoring Scandinavia and the low countries to get at our benefits system is, frankly, bonkers. People who know anything about UK social security have known for decades that one of its characteristic features is its relative lack of generosity.
This just about made my day.