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 743.

    1. Why so much hue and cry now? Britain joined EU, it opened the gate. Why doesn't Britain get out of EU? Some vested economic interests, my guess.
    2. Immigration in itself doesn't look like a problem. In switzerland, 1 in 5 is an immigrant in proportion to the population, it's doing just fine.

    I think the problem is the generous welfare system of UK to immigrants unlike other EU countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 742.

    He's deliberately missing the point and telling the public what the issues and concerns are.

    So nothing is going to change.

    There are no jobs and too many people.

    There needs to be limits on ANYONE from ANY country, EU or otherwise, from working in the UK unless it is a highly skilled or specialized job

    We are no in desperate need for hotel and bar staff. Young Brits need work. UNDERSTAND

  • rate this

    Comment number 741.

    They cannot change anything the EU will not allow it. Please don't be fooled. We are members of the EU and have to aide by they rules. They will not allow any form of discrimination like this. How and how convenient the video clip of Nigel Farage will not play. Can the BBC be any more laughably biased.

  • rate this

    Comment number 740.

    "And what have we learned from the Industrial Revolution? ... By all means introduce technology, but when the cost is increased poverty..."
    Your economic history is well adrift.
    The IR supported increased public welfare and general wages.
    But the managerial class was not up to keeping our lead.
    So they sold up and scarpered with the national loot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 739.

    Can we have the breakdown for claimants who have come from countries such as Pakistan compared with the "native population" whatever that means nowadays?

  • rate this

    Comment number 738.

    716.Quo Vadis - really? Sources please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 737.

    Another sorry effort at tokenism from a failed government desperate to try and win votes

  • rate this

    Comment number 736.

    Has anyone thought of taking benefits back to what they were originally intended for all those years ago?

  • rate this

    Comment number 735.

    What is this 'Bash an immigrant' week?

    Yesterday we had Clegg wanting to keep them out of social housing, tofday Cameron is talking about resticting their benfits.

    At this rate tomorrow Milliband be talking about excluding them from certain jobs & by the end of the week Nigel Farage will have annouced plans to legalise hunting them with hounds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 734.

    683. frankiecrisp
    I think anyone who has any ancestors born outside this country ahould be sent back where they came from


    So, you mean everyone? All 60 million plus of us? Why don't we just send the whole world back to Africa if that is your logic!

    I despair at some people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 733.

    I don't remember voting to allow people from every country in the EU just to come on over and help themselves to benefits and handouts.
    Thought it was just a trading relationship.
    Silly me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 732.

    There are not enough jobs here as it is. What is wrong with you Dave? If Bulgaria and Romania were giving away free money and a half decent health service with housing to boot then I'd be off there. Am I the insane one here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 731.

    How sad it is to see a Prime Minister driven to such uncomfortable rhetoric by the success of UKIP and pressure from the lurking Right Wing in his own party.

  • rate this

    Comment number 730.

    What exactly are the facts and figures? That clearly does not matter. In reality, benefits are always underclaimed not overclaimed, and the costs are miniscule compared to Tory bankers bonuses. Yet more nasty right wing jingoism, xenophobia and moral panic to distract us from the rich getting richer and criminal imcometence with the economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 729.

    Petty posturing by a downgraded prime minister. The problem needs addressing at the source - the EU.

    Disillusioned ex Conservative voter here, who will be voting UKIP. The LIB/LAB/CON are all as bad as each other. Useless, bickering, centre ground, career politicians who don't have an ounce of common seance between them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 728.

    "name me 5 famous poles " (Poles,please!)
    Well,there's Chopin and Marie Curie for starters and that's just off the top of my head."

    I'd like to add Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) to that. A very successful Polish immigrant author.
    The previous pope and Lech Walesa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 727.

    All benefits, for any migrant EU or wider should be paid on the following basis:-

    "The lower of the UK benefit or the equivalent benefit in your home country
    Start dates 6 months after entry would also be a good idea - the Aussies are far less obliging than we are - you must have means of support when entering the country

  • rate this

    Comment number 726.

    I laughed when Cleggy suggested a £1000 non refundable deposit if people overstayed their welcome the other day? How COMPLETELY out of touch is he?!
    Dave raised the subject of immigration but three years into Government suggests this is motivated by UKIP's forthright policies which are frightening all of the traditional parties.

    I'm NOT a UKIP member but well done for shaking things up a bit!

  • rate this

    Comment number 725.

    I was complaining about this to UKiP supporter that I know. His response was "well if you don't like it then you should move to France" and yes, he failed to see the irony.

  • rate this

    Comment number 724.

    None of this will ever happen; and quite right too. The idea that you can let people in and then treat them in any way worse than you would treat anybody else isn't just illegal under Human Rights law but immoral as well.
    The only answer is not to let them in the first place. Once they have arrived then they are here to stay and must be treated equally. We are an island, who we let in is up to us.


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