David Cameron defiant over tougher EU benefit plans


Prime Minister David Cameron: "It is about sending out a signal"

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David Cameron has defended plans to toughen welfare rules for EU migrants, saying he was sending a "clear message" to people that the UK was not a "soft touch" for claiming benefits.

He said he shared public concerns about the end of work restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians next month.

Labour says he should have acted sooner and a European commissioner warned the UK risked being seen as "nasty".

But the prime minister said: "British people expect fairness."

"That is what this is about," he told BBC political editor Nick Robinson. "It is about fair treatment for people who work hard and do the right thing."

Mr Cameron has announced measures including:

  • New migrants not getting out-of-work benefits for the first three months
  • Payments being stopped after six months unless the claimant has a "genuine" chance of a job
  • New migrants not being able to claim housing benefit immediately
  • Deportation of those caught begging or sleeping rough, with no return within a year
  • Quadrupling fines for employers not paying the minimum wage

Mr Cameron questioned the principle of free movement of people across the EU, saying this right could not be "unqualified".

"Yes, of course, there is a right to take up a specific position if you want to work but there should not be a freedom of movement to claim," he added.

Bulgarian Ambassador Konstantin Dimitrov: "Politicians and media are whipping up a campaign to manipulate public opinion"

He told the BBC controls were "not just aimed at Romanians and Bulgarians" but would apply to "anyone in other EU countries thinking of coming to Britain because it is easier to claim benefits".

"I think it is very important to send out a clear message that this is not the case."

Mr Cameron suggested a future Conservative government, as part of its pledge to renegotiate EU membership, could seek more control over migration policy.

Working with like-minded EU governments, he said, it would look at allowing member states to halt arrivals if numbers exceeded a set level.

He also suggested freedom of movement should only be fully allowed if the average income of a country's people was not too far below the EU average.

Graphic: MIgrant workers in the UK

Transitional controls limiting Bulgarian and Romanian workers' access to the UK labour market - in place since the two countries joined the EU in 2007 - will expire at the end of the year.

There have been warnings of an "influx" of low-skilled workers and calls to review migrants' access to the NHS and welfare.

European Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor described Mr Cameron's proposals as "an unfortunate over-reaction", adding that EU rules applied equally to all 28 member states and had been agreed to by the UK.

David Cameron says: "All of this we can legally do within the limits of the treaties." There is much that is unclear, however. Will there be new legislation? Will EU officials challenge these changes?

The prime minister has also promised to remove those who are begging or sleeping rough. Again it is unclear whether this would involve new legislation.

Then there is the long term. David Cameron wants to qualify the right to freely move and work. He is talking of withholding that right to new countries until their national income has reached a certain level. This is, at the moment, just an idea but it will be hugely controversial.

One of the attractions for countries in Eastern Europe and beyond is the ability to move within the EU's 28 countries to find work.

But there are concerns in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and elsewhere about so-called benefits tourism.

The UK intends to place this at the centre of its demands to reform the EU.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the British public had "not been told all the truth" and that there were existing EU safeguards to prevent "benefit tourism".

Mr Andor said: "We would need a more accurate presentation of the reality, not under pressure, not under hysteria, as sometimes happens in the UK. I would insist on presenting the truth, not false assumptions."

Immigration from Poland and other countries had helped the UK economy, he said, arguing that the prime minister's suggestions risked "presenting the UK as a kind of nasty country in the European Union".

And Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said: "If Britain wants to leave the single market, you should say so. But if Britain wants to stay a part of the single market, free movement applies. You cannot have your cake and eat it, Mr Cameron."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he had spoken to Mr Cameron on Tuesday to remind him that free movement was a "fundamental" EU principle "that must be upheld".

He added: "There is clear evidence of its economic benefits but we are also aware of the challenges that this can also bring, particularly for local communities and services and EU rules already include measures to prevent abuse."

However, a Downing Street spokesman insisted the changes would happen "as quickly as possible", adding: "The prime minister is focused on ensuring we have the right rules."

Start Quote

As you walk through the old streets, you hear foreign voices - mothers pushing their children to nursery, farm-workers heading home after a day in the fields - and this rapid cultural change has made the town feel uneasy.”

End Quote
'Still far too generous'

The Liberal Democrats said the proposed "sensible" changes would "restore confidence" in the immigration system and "ensure that the right to work does not automatically mean the right to claim".

But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the prime minister was "playing catch-up" and copying a Labour idea.

During Commons exchanges with Home Secretary Theresa May, she said many of the measures would not be in place in time for the change in rules for Bulgarians and Romanians.

Many Conservative MPs urged Mrs May to defy the EU and extend the transitional controls on Bulgarians and Romanians, but she replied the UK would not go outside the law.

When will new measures come in?

  • 1 January, 2014: Six month limit on claiming out-of-work benefits unless there's a "genuine chance of getting a job"
  • 1 January, 2014: Deportation and 12 month bar on returns for homeless/beggars
  • 1 January, 2014: Toughening of the habitual residency test (to show someone qualifies for UK benefits)
  • Later - because secondary legislation needed: Three month delay on claiming out-of-work benefits
  • Later - because primary legislation needed: New penalties for non-payment of minimum wage
  • Unknown - Ban on housing benefit, and minimum income threshold

Downing Street says the rules allowing deportation of homeless people and six-month limit on getting jobless benefits would be in force from 1 January, as well as the tougher habitual residence test (which determines general eligibility to many UK benefits).

The three-month delay on claiming out-of-work benefits will take longer to implement because it requires legislation, while it is not yet known when, and for how long, EU migrants would not be able to claim housing benefits.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said the UK was "still being far too generous", adding: "Under his proposal, somebody can come here on 1 January from Romania and within 12 weeks be entitled to unemployment benefit."

MigrationWatch UK has said it expects 50,000 people to come from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK in each of the next five years but the Bulgarian ambassador has said he believes the figure will be much lower - predicting levels of about 8,000.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1853.

    A rare occasion where D Cameron is right. Migration should be for positive reasons, not to scrounge off those already heavily taxed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1852.

    1831. JasonEssex

    What do you suggest then? My point was to the moaning childfree pointing out they get a free ride off the children of everyone else (which includes immigrants). The government is increasing pension ages which everyone affected complains about and requiring them to take up pension contributions (albeit not enough) which they also complain about. What's your plan?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1851.

    If the government was serious about cutting benefit expenditure they would raise the minimum wage and cut tax credits which subsidise low wages straight from the taxpayer's pocket.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1850.

    Some of our Commonwealth partners are showing that they are far more sensible than "the old country". Just have a look at the immigration policies of Australia and Canada and you'll see what I mean. Those guys have LOADS of room to spare but getting in requires that you have a job, or sufficient funds. Before we give out to immigrants, we should look after our own - "Charity begins at home!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 1849.

    1823 Herb
    Try being a poor, vulnerable British in an EU country and see how you et treated then.
    Schools here have too many languages spoken in them (by the kids - not taught). There are too many non-natives visiting the Job Centre, often unable to speak English so how do they expect to get a job?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1848.

    Cameron is dancing to the UKIP tune.

    Dance monkey, dance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1847.

    and in dorset i had a knee operation and it was done by an english surgeon and done very well.

    Whats your point?

    If you deduct all the immigrants from the population ie population drops down to about 45 million - there would be plenty of houses and schools and infrastructure and natural resources

    FACT IS THE NHS just like the pension was never designed 4massed immigration

  • rate this

    Comment number 1846.

    1801.Alaric the Visigoth
    I disagree with you - not that that is unusual.
    50 years ago this country was definitely not multicultural insomuch as the modern definition of the word. Certainly, there were people from all sorts of countries, and they were welcomed because they wanted to enjoy our little island as it was - they didn't come here and then try to change it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1845.

    It seems there is a prevalence of xenophobic paranoiacs contributing to this 'discussion'. Right, I'm Brit-born, of a long line of Brit generations. My partner is SE Asian, ie: an 'immigrant', she works very hard for an Asian owned hotel chain catering for many thousands of foreign visitors to the UK. This supports tourism, UK jobs and its economy. Immigration is very much a positive thing.

  • Comment number 1844.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1843.

    Just how hard is it to implement common sense rules.
    Let people come if they have a job or sponsor for a job.
    Any genuine worker that is paid a fair a decent wage is welcome, people winging it and without prospects should look to their own governments to assist them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1842.

    Does Mr Cameron really think endless migrants from fellow EU members are going to rush here? Most of the former Eastern Bloc members find it much easier to go to Germany as many speak German.
    He is so paranoid about UKIP and his Euro sceptic right and is becoming an embarrassment, he needs to realise we are partners and should be working with each others to solve our problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1841.

    "Chewbacca stole my Girlfriend
    Why do we accept 500,000 Romanians when we put a cap on the number of US, Canadian, Australia/NZ "

    That's sort of obvious: the US, Oz and NZ are not in the EU and ALSO impose restrictions on Brits going to work there. Brits have the unlimited right to go live and work in Romania. Apparently much of it is beautiful and the cost of living is cheap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1840.

    There are "benefits to Migration".

    But it should not be...

    "Migration to Benefits"

  • rate this

    Comment number 1839.

    Here we go again - he who must be obeyed spouting another load of drivel that he cannot deliver on - to appear to be in touch with public opinion. And some plebs on here seem to swallow the baloney !! Please bbc, stop giving so much free PR to an embarrassing nonentity whose sole mission in life is to maintain the status quo for his rich buddies and city pals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1838.

    Mr Crosby please go home, you are an unwelcome immigrant. Problem caused by keep going on a bout it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1837.

    Anyone can check the facts about benefit entitlement, and its blindingly obvious those rules don't encourage benefit tourism. So what is Cameron talking about?...he's not talking *about* anything, he's just talking to those who won't take a moment to check the facts. He can always count on their vote, he doesn't even need to present them with any policies, just the occasional nonsensical rant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1836.

    Interestingly, one media source recently did some digging and found that over the past few years, not a single work permit has been refused to migrants from Romania and Bulgaria...

    As for the Tories' ambivalent nature: their core supporters don't like Europe or immigration, but their biggest financial backers like both. Hence rhetoric to keep voters happy, inaction to keep party donors happy...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1835.

    I don't think it is a matter of if they claim benefits. Most probably don't. The problem lies in how they put a strain on our resources. Everyone ignores the fact that we are an Island. Unlike Spain, Germany, France which are massive compared to us. Migration is a real problem. And how can we have multiculturalism when most immigrants refuse to mix not just with the host, but each other?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1834.

    This Government seem completely obsessed with preventing anyone from claiming State Benefits, whilst simultaneously squandering Billions £££'s of Taxpayers' money on bodged Welfare Reforms that are designed to line the pockets of private companies such as A4e, Ingeus, Interserve, Serco, G4s, and their shareholders. Wake up people, you've been had. Make no mistake about it, this is Class War!


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