Cameron should concentrate on European pay, not benefits
Today and tomorrow, the December European Council, where EU leaders meet, will take place in Brussels. The big story for Britain is David Cameron’s EU renegotiation agenda. The TUC has called on him to concentrate on low pay rather than benefit curbs, and especially urged him not to let young people and young families get caught in the referendum cross-fire.
There is almost no chance that today will see Cameron’s negotiations conclude – he still hasn’t set down on paper exactly what would be needed to implement the four priorities he set out in his letter last month to Donald Tusk. But the negotiations will get down to detail in January ahead of a final conclusion at the February European Council.
Benefit rights for people moving to the EU from the rest of Europe will be the main sticking point, with Eastern European governments unlikely to allow wholesale discrimination against their citizens, and other governments unwilling to see the freedom of movement that underpins the EU single market undermined. Cameron will probably get significant changes to the rights of unemployed people to benefits, as the EU treaties are no obstacle to such changes and many other countries are introducing such reforms.
The sticking point is in-work benefits, where the major problem is that people are working for such low wages, they need topping up from the state (there will always be a role for such benefits of course, because people have different circumstances and different needs – but such benefits for the low-paid should be the exception rather than the norm.) The TUC argues that what European leaders should be focusing on over dinner tonight is better pay for everyone. As Frances O’Grady says:
“That would reduce the in-work benefits bill. It would give British workers a fair day’s pay for an honest day’s work. It would mean people don’t feel forced to leave home and travel to another country just to get a decent wage. And it would support sustainable growth.”
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) similarly asked the following questions:
“Will Governments agree to David Cameron’s demand for workers from other parts of the EU to be denied – in clear breach of EU law – ‘in-work benefits’? Shouldn’t the EU get tough on low pay instead of cutting benefits for low-paid migrant workers?”