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 903.

    We are a small island and we are already overcrowded. Successive governments have been so 'politically correct' we have lost our own identity. 'Soft Touch' is not nearly strong enough to describe how the UK has behaved toward immigration over the last long while. Bravo UKIP for forcing our mainstream parties to 'man up' - it has taken long enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 902.

    846. ukip all the way
    ....... broke yet still expected to pay billions in benefits to illegal immigrants.

    Everyone, Left, Right and Centre is against ILLEGAL immigration and payments to these people will stop as soon as the UKBA finds and deports them.

    Immigrants get jobs because there ARE jobs - the jobs that Brits will not do.

    Suggest you read UKIP manifesto.

  • rate this

    Comment number 901.

    More tripe from Dave as he desperately trawls for votes. He has fabricated a 'problem' - immigrants have a positive effect on the economy, small numbers of them are on benefits (far smaller %age than nationals) and their use of the NHS is small. Racists will take his words as justification of their dislike of, well, anyone who's not 'one of us', so Dave's words will cause misery. He doesn't care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 900.

    887. It may be a scandal. But the politcal parties have done it for a reason.

    Tories love cheap imported labour. Labour loves the benefits scam to buy votes and the Lib-Dems don't even want a UK, except as a province of Europe.

    My question is to the voters out there. Why do you vote for people that would put your own country out of existence? Talk about madness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 899.

    714: they already have to do that. You have to fill in a job diary indicating the steps you've taken/are taking, to find work. So this already applies to people on JSA who are born and bred British

  • rate this

    Comment number 898.

    #858 Which is how it should, and hopefully one day, will be, with a properly federated Europe, where we still have national governments dealing with specifically national matters, and with a cohesive European defence and trading policy.Given this feeding frenzy today, I wonder what bad news Dave's trying to bury this week.. or have you all forgotten the budget already?

  • rate this

    Comment number 897.

    Voters do not understand how politics work in the UK, Central government does not always control local government, so while you are berating the PM, local pathetic councils who do not agree with the PM undermine policy, after all, councils are not legally required to do any checks or strict policy on immigrants. They can do what they want, you want total democracy, well like capitalism its broke

  • rate this

    Comment number 896.

    key words in it all....if, possibly and maybe

  • rate this

    Comment number 895.

    You really have to wonder at the quality of his advisors.
    No sooner out of his yapping pie hole and the facts start to stack up against him.
    In this case the lunatic fringe party UKIP are correct, he is just trying to win back some of the right of his own party and supporters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 894.

    The number of immigrants or where they are from isn't the problem. I'ts the consequences that is the issue. For every immigrant who takes a low skill/low pay job it means a UK resident is consigned to a life on benefits. The large supply of immigrants who will work illegally or for less pushes down wages for the low skilled and has led to creation of the benefit class and all its consequences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 893.

    London is the backbone of Britain and the UK's pace-setting city.
    Immigrants built this city, starting from the Irish in construction until the West indies peoples who came here to drive buses.
    Now they had kids and their kids studied, got good jobs and had kids.
    UKIP is trying to get selective. Why did they not protest in 1963? or in 1967? and why the hell did they not drive the buses themselves

  • rate this

    Comment number 892.

    The European union was born unequal and if it collapses it will collapse unequal. It is one thing to talk about fair exchange throughout the Union, but if I, British citizen, go to live in another European country (which I have) I certainly don-t get many benefits. Herein lies the unfairness. In countries like Italy, benefits are awful for Italians, let alone another European. Unequal = unfair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 891.

    There seems to be two issues confused here. 1). immigrants cost money in state benefits, 2). UK has too many immigrants. The first seems to be refuted by the data, net contributuins are overwhelmingly positive by non native inhabitants. As for the second, that cannot be refuted or proved as it is a matter of opinion. I worry about UK denying legitemate EU citizens health care.I have it in France

  • rate this

    Comment number 890.

    GPs under stress, hospitals and school. It doesn't take an idi... politician to work it out.

    There should've been education and childcare reform, instead, idealists looked to the cheaper option of foreigners who already have the training.

    It's the native working and lower class that always gets done over, and it's their country, their forefathers fought for it. Their competition ever grows.

  • rate this

    Comment number 889.

    We do not want all these, how can it be put "Wandering Peoples". from Roumania Bulgaria & Hungary. They can be "Travellers" in their own country, but not become European wide. Stay in East Europe. The French will just put them on the Euro Train one way to the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 888.

    I hear UKIP are going to stop Guardian readers and political and social science students from using credit cards, overdrafts and loans to stop buying Latte Coffee, Cigarettes and alcohol. How could these Facists expect them to save the money first by contributing to the real econony. Terrible I am ashamed to be British.

  • rate this

    Comment number 887.

    Many of the indigenous people in the UK have had a fill of immigrants taking benefits, housing and jobs from those who are UK nationals. If we go abroad we don't get any benefits. It is a scandal what has happened here in Britain and all the total unfairness has led to a dislike and in some people hatred of immigrants. If it had been done properly this feeling would not exist in the population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 886.

    We have to do something about it. We can't just let these people come in and take what is ours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 885.

    Even UK born JSA claimants have to undergo checks to make sure they are actively seeking work.
    I think this is just posturing by the PM rather than introducing any significant material changes.
    There is just something very ugly about the way the Tories think they can exact their political agenda through the welfare state.
    JSA accounts for just 3% of the benefits bill don't forget.

  • rate this

    Comment number 884.

    850.Stewart - I'm a Brit who's spent most of my professional career, working outside the UK

    In which case you aint tried to get any affordable housing recently back in the UK? and I bet you dont pay UK taxes either so its easy for you to say what you did, and yes I also spent quite a while overseas before you say anything


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