The claim

The Prime Minister said “we now know that, at any one time, around 40 per cent of all recent European Economic Area migrants are supported by the UK benefits system”.
David Cameron, Chatham House, 10/11/2015

The background

This claim is backed up by basic headline figures from No. 10 and published in The Times (£). They claim 43 per cent of EU migrants who have arrived in the last four years are on benefits, and that of these 66 per cent receive these benefits while in work.

Are 43% of recent EU migrants claiming benefits?

An senior Government figure briefed that 43 per cent of “recently arrived” EU migrants are supported by the benefits system to The Times. David Cameron said “around 40 per cent” in his speech.

This, according to their analysis, works out as 224,000 out of 526,000 migrants in March 2013 who had arrived within 4 years.

At 5.05pm the Department of Work and pensions published an 8 page “statistical analysis” of the data used by the Government – however it did not contain data tables or detailed any figures to interrogate.

The note – from the department which provided the key figures to No.10 – said there is “uncertainty” in their analysis of the number of migrants claiming benefits.

So much so they would only provide a range. It said between 37 per cent and 45 per cent of EEA nationals were claiming in and out of work benefits.

So while the Government didn’t choose the highest figure when it said 43 per cent it chose one in the higher range, five percentage points higher than the lowest estimate and just two below the highest.

The around 40 per cent figure is a larger one than could have used to illustrate David Cameron’s point in his speech today.

What about the children?

The briefing is based on the number of adults who signed up for national insurance numbers in the four years to March and claimed benefits – 95,000 to 105,000.

They assume that between 25,000 and 35,000 of these people have partners, and between them the couples and single people have between 75,000 and 95,000 children.

The assumption is also made that all of these children are not British nationals.

As Jonathan Portes, of the National Institute of Social Research points out, this would also mean a huge proportion of the total estimated number of EEA children in Britain – 135,000 – would be on benefits.

Are the figures right?

As the Government still hasn’t published the full data behind these headline figures, we can’t decisively say. According to The Guardian the Government have been refusing to release them under FOI since August.

Before the Government released their figures, economists – including those at Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, OpenEurope and the National Institute of Social Research – made estimates of migrant benefit claims using HMRC data and Labour Force Survey data.

These suggest  both EU and non-EU migrants are slightly more likely to claim in-work tax credits than UK born people – but far less than the 28 per cent the government figures suggest.

Moreover foreign born people are less likely to claim out of work benefits those born in the UK.


The government also claimed that 66 per cent of the 43 per cent of EU nationals who moved to Britain in the last four years claim in work benefits. In plain English this means 28 per cent of the overall figure.

However publicly available figures analysed by the Migration Observatory do not point to the 28 per cent figure inferred from the Government briefing.


Meanwhile this chart, by Michael O’Connor, suggests that most EU migrants claiming tax credits have been here for longer than four years.

Again, though, until the full figures are published it is impossible to interrogate the Government’s specific claims.

Charity FullFact has put in a complaint to the UK Statistics Authority citing the body’s guidance that statistics should not be used in public without being independently published.