Cameron immigrant benefits plan faces EU investigation

Restriction of jobseekers’ benefit would ensure Britain was not ‘soft option’, says PM

Britain’s prime minster, David Cameron, and home secretary Theresa May speak to Home Office immigration enforcement officers at a property in Slough where six immigrants were arrested yesterday. Photogrpah: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Britain’s prime minster, David Cameron, and home secretary Theresa May speak to Home Office immigration enforcement officers at a property in Slough where six immigrants were arrested yesterday. Photogrpah: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 01:00

A plan by Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, to tighten restrictions on benefits to unemployed European Union immigrants is to be investigated by the European Commission.

The changes, which will are due to come into force in November, are the latest attempt by the Conservatives to neutralise the threat posed by the UK Independence Party in next year’s general election.

Despite a number of challenges to do so, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has yet to put a figure on how much welfare is paid by the UK to citizens of other EU countries.

Under measures announced last year, European Union immigrants must wait three months before they become eligible to lodge claims for unemployment benefits. Once the claims have been accepted, the immigrants can claim job-seekers’ allowance or child benefit for six months. After that, payments can be cut off if the claimants do not have real prospects of getting work.

Under the new restrictions announced yesterday by Mr Cameron, these payments can be withdrawn after three months instead of six.

Scrutiny

In Brussels, the European Commission said the British proposal would “be scrutinised” very carefully once its full details are published, a spokesman said.

Displaying some disdain for the British action, the spokesman said jobseekers’ allowance for immigrants is usually paid by “the country where they were previously seeking work”.

“In that sense it is difficult to comprehend the announcement,” he went on, before pointedly going on to refer to a UK office of budget responsibility (OBR) study last year that found immigrants have been a benefit to Britain, not a cost.

Writing in the Conservative- supporting and anti-immigration Daily Telegraph, Mr Cameron said the new rules would “put Britain first” and ensure it was “not a soft option”.

The Conservative/Liberal Democrats coalition has halved non-EU immigration since it entered office in 2010 but it has been unable to reduce immigration from within the EU.

The numbers have increased because of the collapse in the economic fortunes of Spain, Greece, Italy and, indeed, Ireland – though Irish immigration is mentioned rarely if ever.

Last week, the International Monetary Fund warned that tougher immigration rules could hit economic growth. It recommended laxer rules, especially in manufacturing.

Meanwhile, foreign recruitment by companies in food processing and other industries that have often gone abroad to fill low-pay, zero-hour-contract jobs will be restricted.

“Some recruitment agencies have even been recruiting directly from elsewhere in the EU without British workers ever getting a chance to apply for jobs,” Mr Cameron said.

The National Institute for Economic and Social Research has previously reported that migrants now account for one in seven people of working age in Britain, but comprise only 7 per cent of out-of-work claimants.

“In other words, migrants are about half as likely as non- migrants to be claiming out-of- work benefits,” said Jonathan Portes, the institute’s director.

National insurance figures indicate more than 120,000 non- UK EU citizens are claiming benefits, but Mr Duncan Smith claimed the actual figure was higher. Citing figures from the OBR, he said halving the time foreigners could claim benefits would save £500 million (€632 million) over five years.

Describing Mr Cameron’s announcement “as a cynical and vacuous attempt to fool the British public”, Ukip said the prime minister was attempting “to sound tough on immigration”.

“This is the same government which currently hands out £1.7 million (€2.1 million) per month to migrant families for free social housing,” said the party’s spokesman on migration, Steven Woolfe.