David Cameron defiant over tougher EU benefit plans

 

Prime Minister David Cameron: "It is about sending out a signal"

Related Stories

David Cameron has defended plans to toughen welfare rules for EU migrants, saying he was sending a "clear message" to people that the UK was not a "soft touch" for claiming benefits.

He said he shared public concerns about the end of work restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians next month.

Labour says he should have acted sooner and a European commissioner warned the UK risked being seen as "nasty".

But the prime minister said: "British people expect fairness."

"That is what this is about," he told BBC political editor Nick Robinson. "It is about fair treatment for people who work hard and do the right thing."

Mr Cameron has announced measures including:

  • New migrants not getting out-of-work benefits for the first three months
  • Payments being stopped after six months unless the claimant has a "genuine" chance of a job
  • New migrants not being able to claim housing benefit immediately
  • Deportation of those caught begging or sleeping rough, with no return within a year
  • Quadrupling fines for employers not paying the minimum wage

Mr Cameron questioned the principle of free movement of people across the EU, saying this right could not be "unqualified".

"Yes, of course, there is a right to take up a specific position if you want to work but there should not be a freedom of movement to claim," he added.

Bulgarian Ambassador Konstantin Dimitrov: "Politicians and media are whipping up a campaign to manipulate public opinion"

He told the BBC controls were "not just aimed at Romanians and Bulgarians" but would apply to "anyone in other EU countries thinking of coming to Britain because it is easier to claim benefits".

"I think it is very important to send out a clear message that this is not the case."

Mr Cameron suggested a future Conservative government, as part of its pledge to renegotiate EU membership, could seek more control over migration policy.

Working with like-minded EU governments, he said, it would look at allowing member states to halt arrivals if numbers exceeded a set level.

He also suggested freedom of movement should only be fully allowed if the average income of a country's people was not too far below the EU average.

Graphic: MIgrant workers in the UK

Transitional controls limiting Bulgarian and Romanian workers' access to the UK labour market - in place since the two countries joined the EU in 2007 - will expire at the end of the year.

There have been warnings of an "influx" of low-skilled workers and calls to review migrants' access to the NHS and welfare.

European Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor described Mr Cameron's proposals as "an unfortunate over-reaction", adding that EU rules applied equally to all 28 member states and had been agreed to by the UK.

David Cameron says: "All of this we can legally do within the limits of the treaties." There is much that is unclear, however. Will there be new legislation? Will EU officials challenge these changes?

The prime minister has also promised to remove those who are begging or sleeping rough. Again it is unclear whether this would involve new legislation.

Then there is the long term. David Cameron wants to qualify the right to freely move and work. He is talking of withholding that right to new countries until their national income has reached a certain level. This is, at the moment, just an idea but it will be hugely controversial.

One of the attractions for countries in Eastern Europe and beyond is the ability to move within the EU's 28 countries to find work.

But there are concerns in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and elsewhere about so-called benefits tourism.

The UK intends to place this at the centre of its demands to reform the EU.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the British public had "not been told all the truth" and that there were existing EU safeguards to prevent "benefit tourism".

Mr Andor said: "We would need a more accurate presentation of the reality, not under pressure, not under hysteria, as sometimes happens in the UK. I would insist on presenting the truth, not false assumptions."

Immigration from Poland and other countries had helped the UK economy, he said, arguing that the prime minister's suggestions risked "presenting the UK as a kind of nasty country in the European Union".

And Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said: "If Britain wants to leave the single market, you should say so. But if Britain wants to stay a part of the single market, free movement applies. You cannot have your cake and eat it, Mr Cameron."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he had spoken to Mr Cameron on Tuesday to remind him that free movement was a "fundamental" EU principle "that must be upheld".

He added: "There is clear evidence of its economic benefits but we are also aware of the challenges that this can also bring, particularly for local communities and services and EU rules already include measures to prevent abuse."

However, a Downing Street spokesman insisted the changes would happen "as quickly as possible", adding: "The prime minister is focused on ensuring we have the right rules."

Start Quote

As you walk through the old streets, you hear foreign voices - mothers pushing their children to nursery, farm-workers heading home after a day in the fields - and this rapid cultural change has made the town feel uneasy.”

End Quote
'Still far too generous'

The Liberal Democrats said the proposed "sensible" changes would "restore confidence" in the immigration system and "ensure that the right to work does not automatically mean the right to claim".

But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the prime minister was "playing catch-up" and copying a Labour idea.

During Commons exchanges with Home Secretary Theresa May, she said many of the measures would not be in place in time for the change in rules for Bulgarians and Romanians.

Many Conservative MPs urged Mrs May to defy the EU and extend the transitional controls on Bulgarians and Romanians, but she replied the UK would not go outside the law.

When will new measures come in?

  • 1 January, 2014: Six month limit on claiming out-of-work benefits unless there's a "genuine chance of getting a job"
  • 1 January, 2014: Deportation and 12 month bar on returns for homeless/beggars
  • 1 January, 2014: Toughening of the habitual residency test (to show someone qualifies for UK benefits)
  • Later - because secondary legislation needed: Three month delay on claiming out-of-work benefits
  • Later - because primary legislation needed: New penalties for non-payment of minimum wage
  • Unknown - Ban on housing benefit, and minimum income threshold

Downing Street says the rules allowing deportation of homeless people and six-month limit on getting jobless benefits would be in force from 1 January, as well as the tougher habitual residence test (which determines general eligibility to many UK benefits).

The three-month delay on claiming out-of-work benefits will take longer to implement because it requires legislation, while it is not yet known when, and for how long, EU migrants would not be able to claim housing benefits.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said the UK was "still being far too generous", adding: "Under his proposal, somebody can come here on 1 January from Romania and within 12 weeks be entitled to unemployment benefit."

MigrationWatch UK has said it expects 50,000 people to come from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK in each of the next five years but the Bulgarian ambassador has said he believes the figure will be much lower - predicting levels of about 8,000.

Graph
 

More on This Story

Related Stories

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    +113

    Comment number 1835.

    I don't think it is a matter of if they claim benefits. Most probably don't. The problem lies in how they put a strain on our resources. Everyone ignores the fact that we are an Island. Unlike Spain, Germany, France which are massive compared to us. Migration is a real problem. And how can we have multiculturalism when most immigrants refuse to mix not just with the host, but each other?

  • rate this
    -41

    Comment number 1323.

    Do the Brits fear change? Possibly. That of the 1/4 million poles who allegedly came over here (not to sponge benefits, but to work) how many remain? UK - it's ok but it aint the Garden of Eden. Most will come, work and go back. Engage them, you'll benefit from it. Don't fear or hate them.

  • rate this
    +75

    Comment number 200.

    I’m an immigrant,, from my point of view immigration laws in UK are too soft. Countries like Sweden or Denmark good examples of controlled immigration. I think that any social support should not applied to foreign nationals, other social services should be charged on top of income tax as it strains the system and puts more pressure on social services. Well done Mr Cameron!

  • rate this
    +177

    Comment number 66.

    I'm an Aussie professional. I have 2 degrees, earn 100k a year, no access to benefits. My one trip to a GP in 5 years has cost me £21,000 based on NI contributions.
    All my great grand parents were English, two fought in Gallipoli and Flanders.
    I appreciate human rights, women's rights and the merits of the magna carta.
    But at any moment my highly skilled sponsorship visa could be revoked.

  • rate this
    -21

    Comment number 51.

    I think its easy but dangerous for people to blame all our problems on immigration. There are vast amounts of benefits that having a healthy influx of immigrants brings to a country. It increases our internal markets ultimately creating more jobs.
    The trick is being able to handle it in the right manner, something succesive governments have failed to do by concentrating too much on the negatives

 

Comments 5 of 6

 

More UK Politics stories

RSS

Features

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • HobbitHobbit review

    Nicholas Barber asks whether The Battle of the Five Armies is worthwhile or unnecessary

Programmes

  • An ECG (electrocardiogram)Click Watch

    The wearable technology which could allow you to pay for goods with your heartbeat

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.