25 Mar 2013

Cameron unveils immigrant benefits crackdown

David Cameron outlines how he will end Britain’s “something for nothing” immigration culture, with curbs on unemployment and housing benefits and access to the NHS.

The prime minister will announce today that, from next year, arrivals from the European Union will be stripped of jobseeker’s allowance after six months unless they can prove they have been actively looking for a job and stand a “genuine chance” of finding one.

“Health tourism” will also be targeted, with Mr Cameron saying that non-EU nationals will have to prove they hold health insurance before they receive care.

Ending the something for nothing culture needs to apply to immigration as well as welfare – David Cameron

The “range and depth” of questions in the habitual residence test, which checks that people meet residence requirements for housing and income-related benefits, will also be increased.

And in a move aimed at illegal immigration, Mr Cameron wants the maximum fine for companies using illegal workers doubled to £20,000.

Hard line

Mr Cameron will hope that the harder line will quell disquiet in Conservative ranks, which have seen members of the party flocking to Nigel Farage’s UKIP.

Concerns have been raised that the UK could face an influx of Bulgarian and Romanian workers when EU movement restrictions are loosened at the end of this year.

David Cameron has outlined a harder approach to immigration, including curbs on healthcare, jobseekers allowance and housing (picture: Getty)

Mr Cameron’s rhetoric over Bulgarian and Romanian immigration has prompted mocking – with the Romanians launching a poster campaign showing why it should be UK citizens immigrating there instead – including the tagline “half our women look like Kate, the other half look like her sister”.

His speech also follows a tougher approach from the Liberal Democrats, as outlined by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on Friday.

Speaking at an event in East Anglia, Mr Cameron is due to say: “Ending the something for nothing culture needs to apply to immigration as well as welfare.

“We’re going to give migrants from the European Economic Area (the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) a very clear message. Just like British citizens, there is no absolute right to unemployment benefit.”

All the evidence suggests that people who come here from within the European Union make a substantial net contribution to the public finances – Jonathan Portes

He will add: “While I have always believed in the benefits of immigration I have also always believed that immigration has to be properly controlled.
“As I have long argued, under the last government this simply wasn’t the case.

“Immigration was far too high and badly out of control. Net migration needs to come down radically from hundreds of thousands a year to just tens of thousands.

“And as we bring net migration down so we must also make sure that Britain continues to benefit from it. That means ensuring that those who do come here are the brightest and the best the people we really need with the skills and entrepreneurial talent to create the British jobs and growth that will help us to win in the global race.”

Is it a problem?

However, questions have been raised over the extent to which immigrants claiming benefits in the UK is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, said immigrants were “significantly less likely” to claim benefits than people born in the UK and that those coming from EU countries put more into the economy than they took out.

Migrants claiming benefits

Figures from the Department of Work and Pensions show that, for the financial year ending in 2011, 6.6 per cent of UK migrants with a National Insurance number were on out of work benefits within six months of having applied for a NI number..

That compares with 16.6 per cent of British nationals. The figure is higher than the 2.9 per cent at the height of the economic boom in 2007, but almost half the 12.5 per cent in 2002/03.

The majority of the 46,000 claiming the benefits, out of 701,000, were claiming jobseekers allowance (83 per cent). However, it should be noted that jobseekers' allowance can be a contributory benefit, meaning recipients could be working, and paying contributions via NI payments that would offset their benefits.

The latest DWP figures also show that, at the end of December 2012, UK citizens of non-UK nationality had an employment rate of 68.2 per cent, compared with 72.1 per cent for UK nationals (over 16).

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “All the evidence suggests that people who come here from within the European Union make a substantial net contribution to the public finances – they pay in far more than they take out.”

Under Theresa May the immigration system just isn’t working – Chris Bryant MP

He also played down the impact of health tourism as a “minuscule” part of a wider funding issue.

“We have a very serious problem in this country over the long-term financing of our health service,” he said. “We all want good healthcare, especially as we get old, and we are not prepared to pay the taxes required to fund it. That’s a big problem.

Read more in the Factcheck blog: Raining on the rumour of a Romanian influx

“The problem with people coming from outside the UK in order to sponge off our health service – that may be a problem and we should certainly deal with abuse – but the figures tell us that they impose rather small costs on the health service and certainly, compared to the scale of the problem, it is minuscule.”

‘Practical failings’

And Chris Bryant, the shadow immigration minister, said the problem that needed to be addressed was illegal immigration, not legal immigration.

“The test of the prime minister’s speech is not whether he can make overblown promises or ramp up the rhetoric. It is whether he can stop this government’s growing list of practical failings in the immigration system – especially on enforcement and illegal immigration.

“The number of people refused entry to the UK has dropped by 50 per cent, the number of people absconding through Heathrow passport control has trebled, the number of illegal immigrants deported has gone down, the number of foreign prisoners removed has gone down and the number of businesses fined for employing illegal workers has gone down.

“Under Theresa May the immigration system just isn’t working – fewer illegal migrants are being stopped or sent back, and everyone faces longer delays.

“We need a fair system of controls and limits, with stronger action against illegal immigration and a more effective system for the migration we need.”