From the TUC

Immigrants and benefits – why David Cameron’s plans are dangerous

27 Nov 2013, by in Society & Welfare

In today’s Financial Times the Prime Minister has announced (pay wall) benefit cuts targeted on migrants from the European Union (the story in The Times is clearer and less ambiguous – but also behind a paywall). The biggest cut is the topping and tailing of claims: people won’t get out-of-work benefits for the first three months after arriving in this country and those who qualify for Jobseeker’s Allowance will lose it after six months unless they can prove they have a “genuine prospect of employment”.

In addition, new EU arrivals will be banned from Housing Benefit and there will be a minimum income test for people applying for other benefits, like Income Support. On top of all this, EU migrants found begging or sleeping rough will be deported for a minimum of a year. The UK Independence Party has, quite reasonably, said that these measures show they are “setting the agenda”. Having set the agenda, they are now pushing it further, insisting that these proposals are “too generous”.

There is every chance that UKIP will continue to dictate the direction of change, with the Liberal Democrats hailing the PM’s plans as “sensible and reasonable.” The Opposition has chimed in, claiming that it was all their idea in the first place.

Insofar as the Prime Minister puts forward arguments to back up these policy proposals they amount to this: “Since 2004, we have witnessed the biggest migration in Europe outside wartime” and “Britain is not acting alone in taking these steps.” This hardly adds up to a justification for proposals that will inevitably lead to hardship for workers who find that their pay isn’t enough to live on. The PM claims that “failures in immigration policy were closely linked to welfare and education” and you’d expect that this would be the point at which he explains why these cuts are necessary. But it’s at just this point that his argument becomes strangely irrelevant:

If it does not pay to work, or if British people lack skills, that creates a huge space in our labour market for people from overseas to fill. You cannot blame people for wanting to come here and work hard; but the real answer lies in training our own people to fill these jobs.

How he justifies benefit cuts aimed at people who “come here and work hard” isn’t apparent. An argument based on “welfare tourism” would fit here, but he fails to make it. Which is just as well; as I pointed out last month, newspaper headlines about people from the EU coming to Britain to commit benefit fraud are based on statistics that don’t exist. Despite claims that there are huge numbers coming to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, the correct figure is under 38,000.

Indeed, EU migrants are actually much less likely to claim benefits than natives. According to DWP figures, in February this year, 6.7% of working age non-UK nationals (at the time they first registered for a National Insurance Number) were claiming a DWP working age benefit compared to 16.4% of working age UK nationals.

But the most important reason for opposing these plans is simply how horrible they are.

In the trade union movement, we are already concerned about proposals to introduce a 7 day wait for eligibility for Universal Credit – which will be on top of the design of Universal Credit, which will pay benefits four weeks in arrears. If the government implements today’s plans it won’t stop the continued demonisation of migrant workers – as the UKIP response indicates, that debate will move on to something even more extreme. But if these cuts take place it will show that a three month wait and a time limit are options for the next round of “welfare reform”.

These cuts are a threat to all workers, not just migrants. We think having to wait five weeks for your money (longer, if there’s an administrative cock-up) is outrageous.

A three month wait could be a nightmare.

8 Responses to Immigrants and benefits – why David Cameron’s plans are dangerous

  1. Bill Kruse
    Nov 27th 2013, 2:12 pm

    You miss the point I think, as much of what Cameron ‘proposes’ is already the law

  2. Louisa Radice
    Nov 27th 2013, 11:00 pm

    Is it even remotely outrageous to be barred from claiming means-tested benefits if you let out your property in order to take up a job in another part of the country but subsequently lose the said job?

  3. Migrants, benefits & Europe: is Cameron playing Daily Mail bingo? | STRONGER UNIONS
    Nov 28th 2013, 10:49 am

    […] cracking down on the benefit entitlement of migrants from Europe. As my colleague Richard Exell has rehearsed, the announcement – released without detail so it’s difficult to say anything too […]

  4. Aerfen
    Nov 28th 2013, 11:13 pm

    If the ‘three month wait’ is a ‘nightmare’ that can only be a good thing! The intention is to discourage the new immigrants choosing Britain, since we have taken in way more than our fair share of Eastern Europeans already, and we neither want nor need more here.

    The problem for Britain is that the Enlgish language is ahuge pull factor. Most Eastern Europeans speak at least some English but far far fewer speak French, Spanish, Italian or even German.

    Britain is the favored target country.

  5. Bill Kruse
    Nov 29th 2013, 4:20 am

    Here’s a beter link to make the point I was making above, that the bulk of these restrictions are actually already in force and Cameron was just grandstanding

  6. jed goodright
    Nov 29th 2013, 9:32 am

    Doesn’t anybody notice that we are living in a state similar to that of 1930s Germany. The people who live in the UK and claim benefits are being killed off even though the DWP refuse to publish the figures – it’s scaremongering even asking for them – so why would a nazi government want to welcome ‘foreigners’?????

  7. Greek chickens coming home to roost. And Spanish, and Portuguese… | ToUChstone blog: A public policy blog from the TUC
    Dec 3rd 2013, 8:32 pm

    […] colleague Richard Exell and I have explored different aspects of this issue on Touchstone and Stronger Unions, but I was really interested to see what Jill Rutter had to say over at Left […]

  8. Kat.
    Jan 24th 2014, 12:40 pm

    Uh huh…Interesting idea but let’s not put everyone in one sack. First main question- if I am immigrant who withing time spent here learned to use English in every aspect (keeping own language perfectly fluent and my children having benefit of being bilingual, which we cannot say about many British youths) and I can not only communicate but also have a casual chat, common talk, polite conversation or sophisticated discussion regardless the topic and I can read and write better than average British person…and I love to improve my English at every possible occasion – what then?

    And what about those on”the other side” of story? Those to dealing with benefits system – all workers/advisers (Jobcentre, Advice Centre, agencies – as easiest example, you can add own why not?) who’s English is below average and they don’t understand rules and regulations so cannot correctly recognize who needs benefits to get back on track and work or start own business and who cheats on benefit system.

    And most of mistakes, delays and grief to those both- English and non-English who don’t like to use this part of system but been forced by circumstances – is caused by those who supposed to work for Gov and run it smoothly but they don’t because of their lacks in English understanding and general education – what about that issue?

    And what about British English who cannot speak and understand their own native language correctly in everyday life,instructions,leaflets, documents, guides about regulations and life style in this country – THEIR OWN rights, laws and policies, cultural and traditional background, etc.?

    Just curios and asking rather to find way to cooperate to find remedy for it all and hand it to gov from real life side and point of view. Not to fight or pursue personal issues as they are irrelevant in general context in my humble opinion :)