David Cameron talks tough over European migrants' benefits


David Cameron: ''It is too easy to be an illegal migrant in Britain''

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Europeans will have to prove they are "genuinely seeking employment" to claim UK jobless benefits for more than six months, David Cameron has said.

The prime minister said it was among measures to ensure people came to the UK "for the right reasons" after it became a "soft touch" under Labour.

But Bulgaria's UK ambassador said the UK's rules were already seen in his country as "very restrictive".

Labour warned against an "arms race on immigration rhetoric".

Migrants from the European Economic Area - the EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway - currently have to show they have a "reasonable chance" of finding a job to receive unemployment benefit for more than six months.

Downing Street said they would now face a more rigorous test to assess whether they had a "realistic prospect" of getting a job, with the ability to speak English one of the criteria.


In his speech in Ipswich, the prime minister said there were "concerns, deeply held, that some people might be able to come and take advantage of our generosity without making a proper contribution to our country".

Immigrants have been coming to Ipswich for centuries. But where once they came for work and trade, David Cameron thinks too many are coming now to claim benefits.

That is why he came to Suffolk today to set out his latest plans to dissuade all but what he called the "brightest and the best" migrants from coming here.

He and his fellow party leaders are now in a competition to see which of them can come up with the toughest policy on immigration.

The aim is to reassure voters and prevent too many of them backing UKIP.

The problem for Mr Cameron is that many of his proposals tackle only part of the problem.

The truth is that his room for manoeuvre is limited by EU freedom of movement rules.

There is also the risk that in this immigration arms race, the three largest parties cancel each out and the public end up more confused than reassured.

"These concerns are not just legitimate; they are right and it is a fundamental duty of every mainstream politician to address them."

No 10 was unable to give any figures on the scale, cost and numbers of so-called benefit tourists, although Department for Work and Pensions figures suggest 17% of working-age UK nationals claim a benefit, compared with 7% of working age non-UK nationals.

Transitional restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians working in the UK are due to be relaxed next year.

Since the countries joined the European Union in 2007, their peoples have been able to come to the UK to live and have been able to take jobs either via a work permit system, or by being self-employed, or in a variety of jobs from domestic work to seasonal agriculture.

According to the Office for National Statistics, in July 2012 there were 94,000 Romanians and 47,000 Bulgarians resident in the UK.

The end of existing controls will give those who want to work in the UK the same rights for welfare and NHS care as foreign nationals from the other 24 EU nations.

Eastern European migrants and employment, 2004-09

A8 country* migrants Native population

*Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Poland. Note: Employment rate refers to % of working-age population. Source: Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration





Employment rate





Claiming benefits or tax credits





In social housing





Mr Cameron said: "We can't stop these full transitional controls coming to an end. But what we can do, is make sure that those who come here from the EU - or further afield - do so for the right reasons: that they come here because they want to contribute to our country, not because they are drawn by the attractiveness of our benefits system, or by the opportunity to use our public services."

The prime minister added: "Under the last government immigration in this country was too high and out of control. Put simply, Britain was a soft touch."

He said immigrants in future would be "subject to full conditionality and work search requirements and you will have to show you are genuinely seeking employment - if you fail that test, you will lose your benefit".

He said: "And as a migrant, we're only going to give you six months to be a jobseeker. After that benefits will be cut off unless you really can prove not just that you are genuinely seeking employment but also that you have a genuine chance of getting a job.

"We're going to make that assessment a real and robust one and, yes, it's going to include whether your ability to speak English is a barrier to work."

'Very concerned'

Bulgaria's London ambassador, Konstantin Dimitrov, told the BBC that trying to put figures on the number of his compatriots who might migrate when restrictions are eased was "irrelevant", as "most of the Bulgarians who wanted to find work in the UK have already done so".

He added: "Contrary to the prevalent opinion here about the UK being seen as a soft touch, your system is seen by Bulgarians as very restrictive."

Mr Dimitrov also said: "Luckily Bulgarians don't believe in sham marriages... Nobody need worry about a possible influx of undesirable Bulgarians."

In his speech, Mr Cameron said changes to health care would be introduced, with the UK getting "better" at "reciprocal charging", charging foreign governments for treatment provided to non-working overseas nationals.

Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP: "We should not open up borders unconditionally to Romanians and Bulgarians"

He added that action was being taken to tackle illegal immigration, including making private landlords responsible for making sure their tenants were legally in the UK - and facing fines if it turned out they were not.

Immigrants would be kept off council house waiting lists in England for at least two years, under plans for councils to introduce a residency test.

Councils can already set their own criteria, but many do not.

Mr Cameron said: "We can not have a culture of something for nothing. New migrants should not expect to be given a home on arrival."

But the Local Government Association said it was "very concerned", and councils should decide how to meet housing need.

Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, told the BBC that people "coming from outside the UK, and especially people coming from outside the European Union, are significantly less likely than British nationals, and people born here, to claim benefits".

For Labour, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "It's right to have conditions on benefits and public services for immigration. Most people who come to this country work and contribute, but there are restrictions because the system needs to be fair and seen to be fair.

"However, the government's proposals announced today seem to be very confused and are unravelling. And at the same time there was no significant action to tackle illegal immigration or labour market exploitation which we know have been getting worse.

"We won't support an arms race on immigration rhetoric, we want practical and sensible measures that make the system work."

On Friday Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg gave a speech on immigration in which he called for £1,000 deposits to be demanded for visa applicants from "high-risk" countries, with the money repaid when they leave the UK.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    I love immigration.......... a very convenient scapegoat for government failures! Reminds me of ancient Rome. When the state is in trouble, throw the christians to the lions and keep the rabble happy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    I'm British by birth as are all my relatives going back to the doomsday book. I repatriated to the UK in 2011, and being unemployed at the time was immediately subjected to The Habitual Residency Test.

    If that test is applied to British citizens coming to live in the UK once again - which it is - then it's good enough for non-British citizens coming to live here - EU citizens or otherwise!

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    "Because these restrictions are already enforced for non EU immigrants!"

    You could have fooled me..........
    Exactly how many taxi drivers and takeaway workers do we actually need?
    Theres more people in these industres than the armed forces
    put together.
    Actually that is quite scary considering.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    At long last some real commonsense, we are only a small island, we do need much tighter controls on who comes in and more importently who should be eligible for benefit. If you have paid in over a period of time then you should be able to claim benefit. If you want to come to this country you should have your own money to support you and or a job. Steve

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    I can't understand why we are allowing any immigrants into the UK full stop, when unemployment is above 4 million, not the 2.5 claiming benefits. We need to be able to control our own borders and limit immigration to 50K a year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    UKIP have certainly managed to get all 3 Parties into a spin: they are all now vying to see who can become the biggest scaremongers of all, ignoring the facts: there is a problem, but it needs to be addressed proportionally, not by stooping to such extreme right wing brain washing propaganda. The British are not stupid:they know the scale of the issue without hectoring by this PM who is desperate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Thirty two years ago it was impossible for an immigrant to get any welfare support at all until he or she had paid a minimum of two years National Insurance Contributions.

    Obviously this has changed.

    Can someone tell us when this was changed, which party in government changed it, why, and then explain how this was done without a full debate of the country and an election?

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Do I sense a bit of panic in Cameron?, devoid of any coherent ideas of his own, now he scours the other political parties for policies to steal & claim as his own. If the bishop of Durham is so concerned why don't the church dip into their £billions instead of the UK taxpayer? of course they won't - they don't even pay tax! So the PC on here call it racism - then you pay for em....

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Clearly it should be changed back to a National Insurance scheme. Everyone pays in and after a qualifying period they get covered against unemployment, illness and eventual retirement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    The benefits system has been abused for decades and not by Romanians nor Bulgarians. We all know that. But just because is not politically correct to say it, we don't say it. Pakistani, Indians etc should be the target of restrictions,not Bulgarians or Romanians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    As usual blame the easy target. If we get footballer, politician, corporation and bankers to get a normal pay and split the remaining between the population (immigrant and native) we would have a very rich and happy country.
    P.S. Weren't jobseeker already required to show proof of actually seeking job?

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    I fear as always with politics it is nothing but words and I'm sure the EU or one of it's courts will prevent us from doing anything.
    Methinks UKIP popularity may have been the catalyst to these dreams.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    I fully support housing for anyone who contributes to this country, if you're working here, have a family here and then hit hard times of course you should be eligible for social housing, however equally if you're new to the country and expect a free lunch then you can jog on mate, we didn't create the situation, you did when you came here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    About time too! I worked in Social Security from the 1960-90s and witnessed the gross abuse of the system that went on, the chaos, overspending and financial mismanagement caused by political meddling and mind changing. It was bad enough paying strikers' dependants so the 'workers' could strike and ruin our industries, but scroungers who come here to just scrounge must be barred from benefits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    What sticks in my claw is that there are people who have worked all their lives and are now having to work another couple of years to get their pension yet these people can come in an claim job seekers, benefits, housing and health and it our politicians who are to blame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    To little....to late! Whens the last time any of you either went through Newham in east London or Bradford? Inner city ghettos full of immigrants with the highest unemployment blackspots in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    I have migrated from Asia. I passed an English test before I came in and managed to get a very good job to demonstrate my skills. It sometimes makes me sad that some people are just getting everything because they've born in Europe!!! I am very happy to pay tax as I am living in UK but not for all European, I don't get any benefits when I visit any European countries, so why do I?

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Why should migrants who come here have to look for work when we have such a good benefit system? Open the UK to the World - we have no right to exclude any individual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    As it is already a criteria to prove you are actively seeking work, which is currently being rigorously enforced, the only plus here I can see is that you must be able to speak English.
    Access to social housing is a smokescreen as access to housing benefit wont change.
    Stopping illegals needs more effective border control with adequate staffing levels, but they are being cut.
    Another inert policy

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    I was of the impression that currently you had to be actively seeking work in order to claim JSA! We really need to move to a system urgently where out of work benefits for all but the most severely disabled people are based on contributions made. Immigrants are not the problem, it's the long term, home grown benefit claimants who are.


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