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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  • Comment number 943.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 942.

    I think that history tells us that Hitler started picking on migrants as the cause of Germanys ills in thirties.

    It was only a matter of time before he started picking on other factions he did not like such as Communists and Trade Unionists.

    Watch out the Tories may be picking on you next.

  • rate this

    Comment number 941.

    915. Mendo Shutaro

    "Surely it would make sense to only allow highly skilled migrants who have a guaranteed job to enter the UK in the first place. What do we gain by letting in people who either have no job, or will take very low skilled work for next to no money?"

    We (the people) gain nothing, but employers gain a bigger pool of potential employees - thereby allowing them to offer lower wages!

  • rate this

    Comment number 940.

    Just now
    887. Peter
    "If we go abroad we don't get any benefits"

    Totally untrue!

    Yes complete lies. I've lived and worked in France for 9 years and benefited from exemplary health care from the start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 939.

    It's staggering that, even when faced with the facts about immigration, people still have a problem with it! Willful ignorance is an ugly trait.

  • rate this

    Comment number 938.

    oh no don't blame the migrants blame Tony Blair and new labour allow us to come here

  • rate this

    Comment number 937.

    863. Don't forget the sick and disabled! they've had their go at them too. Add them to the list.

  • rate this

    Comment number 936.

    Immigration has gone to far because to many people have their head in the sand and think it won't affect them. You can't take out of the pot forever if nothing is being put back in, its not rocket science. Cameron isn't going far enough, he needs to think more about this country and less about the E U....

  • rate this

    Comment number 935.

    I've paid my NI contributions for over 30 years, and until last year had never been out of work. I was told last week that my Jobseekers Allowance would end in 4 weeks, because I'd had my 6 months worth - despite providing proof of dozens of job applications every week.
    The system is a joke!

  • rate this

    Comment number 934.

    So it's the bankers' fault that we have such a massive debt?
    Their fault that our public services are stretched and jobs are being taken because of Labour's open door policy?
    Their fault excess demand has caused house prices to rise so much?
    Companies aren't fascists - Fascism preaches devotion to the state, nation and its leader and is broadly against the free market.
    Why globalisation?

  • rate this

    Comment number 933.

    @380 by far the most sensible comment here and voted down by the racist locals. I am ashamed to say I was born English/British with some of the drivel being spouted here. Look at the numbers they do not support what UKIP/daily mail spout. 99% of UK nationals get free education, if they choose to be idiots at school they cant blame immigrants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 932.

    Until we get rid of the Human Rights Act & stop the EU dictating who can and who cannot enter the UK, we don't stand a chance.

    Most people know that only UKIP is credible on this issue. Dave can talk tough but it is not tough enough and we know it will not be become law unless we change our relationship with the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 931.

    What a pathetic speech by the PM who as usual does not understand the issues at all, no surprise there then.

    What most people on here forget that whilst we are in the EU we are not an Island, and we cannot stop people coming in. Wake up

  • rate this

    Comment number 930.

    Well having read all the pros and cons, I am back where I started in the first place: -

    "The English the English the English are best
    I wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest."
    (Stephanie Flanders' Dad)

    Isn't it always the way with patriotism?
    Oh! Sorry! I mean xenophobic racism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 929.

    The economy isn't doing well, the government is making things only worse with austerity (despite interest rates being at a record low), and people are blaming foreigners - alien elements in society - for these problems. If you want to know where this situation is heading I recommend looking up how the "Weimar Republic" came to an end in Germany. Sadly nobody ever wants to learn from history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 928.

    Oh, the irony. All four party leaders vying to demonise 'immigrants' for cheap political advantage, when Cameron, Miliband and Clegg all have immigrant ancestry - in Clegg's case his mother - and Clegg and Farage are married to immigrants. Nauseating hypocrites, the whole pack of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 927.

    In regards to CityBoyCityBoys comments about benefits being lowered for everyone.

    That's the problem you city boys have given us with your great financial 'skills'. A failed economy, zero to negligible spending by Joe public, and they're the ones in work.

    No jobs because the banks have taken the next several generations chances to be bailed out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 926.

    People should contribute financially before they are entitled to claim anything. If they are unfortunate enough then require benefits, there should be time limits on how long they can claim, dependant on how long they had been contributing. If people genuinely want to live in the UK and are able to make a positive contribution, then reasonable restrictions would not be a deterrent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 925.

    Xenophobes of all lands , Unite! on BBC HYS . Vote UKIP!

  • rate this

    Comment number 924.

    No passport - no UK entry. I can't get into the US without a passport and a visa, even for a holiday so why is it possible for non EU people to gain access to the UK without any documentation?


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