EU migrants to Britain face further restrictions on welfare payments
New arrivals will only be able to claim welfare for three months under plans designed to head off criticism of immigration failures.
New immigrants from the EU will only be able to claim welfare payments for three months under plans by David Cameron to address what he called “the magnetic pull of Britain’s benefit system”.
The prime minister will on announce on Tuesday the further tightening of the rules for new arrivals claiming benefits, as he tries to head off criticism from the right of his party about the coalition’s likely failure to hit its targets on reducing immigration to the tens of thousands.
The measure comes just six months after fresh controls were imposed to make EU immigrants wait three months to get jobseeker’s allowance after entering the country and then limiting claims to six months. The rule changes were subsequently extended to child tax credit and child benefit.
The Conservatives will seek to portray the fresh measure as being tough on immigration in an effort to placate the right of the party and win back voters from Ukip.
But Eurosceptics may see the announcement as an attempt to distract them from Brussels’ opposition to a cap on the overall numbers of EU immigrants, which has been floated by the Home Office. The European commission has made it clear that the principle of free movement, giving citizens the right to live and work in other member states, cannot be undermined.
Instead, Cameron has concentrated on trying to reduce benefits for immigrants, which is more within the government’s control, although earlier this year, the UK faced the possibility of court action from the commission over its attempts to restrict migrant benefits.
In an article for the Daily Telegraph, the prime minister will launch a fresh attack on Labour for allowing “the highest rate of migration in modern history” under the last government.
“As Peter Mandelson has admitted, they were practically sending out search parties for people to come here,” he wrote. “There was a failed points system, which allowed so-called ‘highly-skilled’ workers to come here for up to three years to look for work – and often they ended up stacking shelves. There was an increasingly generous, no-questions-asked welfare system, that drew migrants to Britain for the wrong reasons. And unforgivably, while we had the highest rates of migration in our modern history, we also had well over five million people of working age on out-of-work benefits.”
He said the government would “make sure people come for the right reasons – which has meant addressing the magnetic pull of Britain’s benefits system”.
Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has acknowledged the party got it wrong on some aspects of immigration and has tried to reach out to voters worried about the issue. In May, he said people concerned about immigration are not prejudiced because they have seen Britain change at a rapid pace over recent decades.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has promised the party will not engage in an “arms race” on being tough on immigration. She said the party’s response will be proper controls on entry combined with tackling “unfairness and exploitation by dodgy firms to undercut local wages”. Last year, she outlined a package of measures to restrict immediate access to welfare benefits for new European migrants coming to Britain before it was considered by the coalition.Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said the prime minister should talk less and act more by stopping the exploitation of low-skilled migrant labour by by banning recruitment companies that only hire foreign labour.
“It’s almost a year and a half since Labour called for benefit restrictions on new migrants. In that time we’ve had reannouncement after reannouncement from the Tories but little in the way of firm action,” she said. “Behind the rhetoric the true picture of this government on immigration is one of failure, with net migration going up, despite David Cameron’s promise to get it down to the tens of thousands.”
- The Guardian,