EU study on migrants rebuffs 'benefit tourism' claims
- 14 October 2013
- From the section Europe
A European Commission study has found that jobless EU migrants make up a very small share of those claiming social benefits in EU member states.
The study, carried out by a consultancy for the EU's executive, suggests that claims about large-scale "benefit tourism" in the EU are exaggerated.
But the UK government still wants tighter EU rules on access to benefits.
In most of the EU countries studied the portion of EU migrants among welfare beneficiaries was below 5%.
The European Commission says EU migrants continue to make a net contribution to their host countries' finances, by paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits.
According to the latest report, jobless EU migrants form 1% of the total EU population. In the UK the figure was 1.2% in 2011 and 2012.
"The study found little evidence in the literature and stakeholder consultations to suggest that the main motivation of EU citizens to migrate and reside in a different member state is benefit-related, as opposed to work or family-related", the study by consultants ICF-GHK said.
It looked at non-contributory cash benefits across the EU and access to healthcare - that is, benefits that do not depend on a person's national insurance contributions.
EU membership gives citizens across the 28-nation EU the freedom to move to another EU state, work there and claim benefits, though conditions vary considerably from country to country. Most EU countries are in the Schengen zone, where border checks are minimal.
The new study was based on survey data, including case studies, and national administrative records. The consultancy pointed out, however, that there is a lack of official data on non-active EU migrants, so many of the figures are estimates.
In the UK much debate has focused on migrants' access to the National Health Service, which provides universal care and is funded by UK taxpayers.
According to the EU study, non-active EU migrants account for 0.2% of total health spending in the EU, on average.
Responding to the study, a spokesman for UK Prime Minister David Cameron said there was "widespread and understandable concern" about benefit tourism and the UK was working with other EU countries to change the rules on access to benefits.
"There is an issue around access to the welfare system, around fairness as well as a cost issue... We don't think the current system is working," he said.
East to West migration
In 2003-2012 there was a rise in the total number of intra-EU migrants - from 1.3% to 2.6% of the total EU population, according to the EU study.
That period covers the EU's eastward enlargement and the eurozone debt crisis - developments which have spurred migration from parts of eastern and southern Europe.
At the same time, the rate of "economic non-activity" among EU migrants fell to 33%, from 47%.
More than two-thirds of non-active EU migrants are pensioners, students and jobseekers, rather than migrants' relatives or "homemakers", the study found.
The highest numbers of non-active EU migrants, per head of population, are in Luxembourg (13.9%), Cyprus (4.1%), Belgium (3%) and the Republic of Ireland (3%).
The proportion of young, working-age people among EU migrants tends to be higher than in the host country's general population.
The EU's eastward enlargement in 2004 and 2007 brought in 12 new member states, mostly former communist countries lagging behind the other EU members economically.
The number of jobseekers from Poland and other East European countries who came to the UK after 2004 was far greater than the Labour government in power at the time had anticipated.
Next year the EU labour market will be opened fully to Bulgarians and Romanians - whose countries joined in 2007. That has fuelled concern in the UK about a possible surge in the numbers of Bulgarians and Romanians moving to the UK.