From the TUC

East European Migrants and the Welfare State

10 Dec 2015, by in Labour market

A new report was published today that ought to have a massive impact on what the politicians say about migration. It’s called Social dimension of intra-EU mobility: Impact on public services and it looks at the impact in West European countries of migration from the ten new member states in the East.(*)

I say it ought to have a massive impact because it allows us to fact-check some of the claims that are often made about immigration. In particular, it undermines claims that people who come to Britain from Eastern Europe tare benefit tourists.

But let’s start off with something that the people who worry about migration get right: there are a lot of East European migrants in the UK. This is absolutely correct, there are 1.3 million East European citizens in the UK, a higher number than in any other country. But the UK is a largish country and, as a proportion of the total population, that comes to 2.1 per cent – lower than in Ireland (5.0 per cent), Austria (3.1 per cent) and Spain (2.5 per cent).

Politicians often talk about “benefit tourism”. In the UK, East European migrants are much less likely than other groups to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, our main unemployment benefit:

Migration 1

If we look at a wider definition of benefits, East European migrants are less likely to claim any benefit than UK citizens, but they are more likely to claim family benefits, especially tax credits and Child Benefit:

Migration 2

This is almost certainly because East European migrants come to the UK to work. The study shows that while the employment rate for native UK citizens is somewhat over 70 per cent, for East Europeans it is just over 80 per cent. And this is not a new phenomenon:

In the UK, the employment rate of EU12 nationals remained consistently higher compared with that of UK citizens throughout the whole period between 2007 and 2014. (p. 21)

Take-up of benefits for being out of work is lower for East European migrants (‘much lower’ for disability benefits), but the fact that they have come to this country to work means that they are, on average, younger than native UK citizens, and hence more likely to have children still at home. Given the fact that East European migrant workers are just as badly affected as native UK citizens by the low pay and inequality of our labour market, they are more likely to qualify for benefits that help low-paid workers with families.

East European migrant workers are definitely not a drain on the health service. They account for a smaller proportion of health spending than their share of the population (like all migrant groups), while for native UK citizens the opposite is true:

Migration 3

Again, this is almost certainly because East Europeans mostly come to Britain to work, which means they tend to be younger and younger people make less use of the NHS.

East European migrant workers aren’t coming to the UK to get council houses either. UK social housing is allocated on the basis of need and they aren’t the neediest community – studies show EU10 citizens’ share of social housing is as low as 0.5% (p. 53). The problem is the severe shortage of social housing – which means that people who need a home and can’t get one often come to the conclusion that someone else must be getting it.

If everyone paid attention to this study, both sides of the argument might have to think more carefully:

  • Yes, there are a lot of East European migrant workers in this country
  • They aren’t “benefit tourists” – they’ve come here to work
  • They aren’t a drain on the NHS
  • Or on social housing
  • And, overall, they’re less likely to get benefits
  • But they are more likely to get Child Benefit and tax credits
  • That’s partly because they’re more likely to be young enough to have young families
  • And partly because pay is so low and unequal

I said this ought to have a major impact on the debate. But I don’t think it will – arguments about migration see lots of facts being quoted but, in the end, the position people take owes far more to values than to facts. For me, someone who is so committed to the value of hard work that they’ll travel across a continent for it has got exactly the values I share.


(*) Bulgaria and Romania, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

5 Responses to East European Migrants and the Welfare State

  1. Ablemate
    Dec 10th 2015, 7:08 pm

    Even if they rent privately they are contributing to the housing shortage and getting housing benefit. Its not their fault we have a housing crisis but they do exaggerate it. They also leave families behind and get benefit for them which is ridiculous. If they are homeless with children they have to be housed first.
    It is my understanding that if EU citizens get jobs via agencies in their native country they can legally be paid the minimum wage for that country which may be less than the UK minimum wage. This is never talked about in the media, surprise, surprise but it is in one of the treaties, at the behest of big business, naturally. Thats why they are not doing us any favours. Any EU citizen moving to another EU state should be guaranteed the minimum wage in that state, otherwise we get slave labour which, of course, benefits the employers. Why is this not being tackled?

  2. TUC are ill-informed.
    Dec 10th 2015, 10:33 pm

    This is factually incorrect concerning Tax Credits. I strongly suggest checking about them.

  3. Paul Sellers

    Paul Sellers
    Dec 11th 2015, 10:46 am

    For the avoidance of any doubt, the data is accurate. The report was published by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, a body that exists to provide definitive evidence to the European Parliament and Council of Ministers.

    The UK government, TUC and CBI all have representatives on this body and have all read the report before publication.

  4. James Ferguson
    Dec 11th 2015, 1:14 pm

    Actually the source of the figures is the ONS’ Labour Force Survey from 2013. The issue is not that it’s factually incorrect, rather that the interpretation is selective. From the report we can also see that: East European migrants are more likely to receive benefits and Council tax rebates than natives (excl. pensions), that they’re 50% more likely to receive Child benefit and almost twice as likely to receive Tax credits. If they are coming here to work, then it’s only part-time work, because over a third of them are on benefits but only 2% are claiming JSA. Does the report therefore “undermine the claim that Eastern Europeans are benefit tourists”? Apparently not.

  5. Paul Sellers

    Paul Sellers
    Dec 11th 2015, 2:53 pm

    The least selective interpretation would be to look at benefits as a whole.

    When all benefits and tax credits are taken into account, the take up is greater amongst UK citizens than amongst migrants (see the R/H bar in fig 18).