UK Politics

David Cameron: Foreigners' access to UK benefits under review

David Cameron
Image caption The current rules on access to benefits did not pass "common-sense tests", Mr Cameron told MPs

The government is reviewing access to housing, healthcare and the benefits system for foreign nationals to ensure that the UK is not a "soft touch", Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

At his weekly Commons question session, he said he had chaired a committee looking into current policy: "It isn't right if our systems are being abused."

The rights of British citizens should not be enjoyed by "anyone who just chooses to come here", he told MPs.

Tory Mark Spencer had raised the issue.

"The welfare state and the NHS are there to support our constituents when they fall on difficult times," Mr Spencer said.

"Will the prime minister assure the House that he will not allow them to be abused by illegal immigrants and nationals who are coming here as benefit tourists?"

'Undue pressures'

Mr Cameron said this was "a very important point" and said he had chaired a committee meeting on Tuesday to look into the subject.

"Britain has always been an open and welcome economy, but it isn't right if our systems are being abused," he told MPs.

The review of "every single one of our systems: housing, health, benefits", was being led by immigration minister Mark Harper, he said, and would "make sure that we are not a soft touch for those who want to come here".

"It is absolutely vital that we get this right," he told MPs.

"There are many parts of our current arrangements that simply don't pass a simple common-sense test, in terms of access to housing, access to the health service, access to justice and other things which should be the right of all British citizens, but they're not the right of anyone who just chooses to come here."

The prime minister's spokesman later warned that the committee's work was "likely to take some time" and any proposals would have to "operate within the constraints of the law".

But the government was keen to "ensure there were not undue pressures on the smooth running of the labour market in the UK", he said.

Mr Cameron's decision to chair the meeting yesterday, in place of his immigration minister, "pointed to the importance he attaches to this area of work", the spokesman added.

The prime minister has previously said the government would be reviewing current policy when asked about the lifting on restrictions from January 2014 on Bulgarians and Romanians working the UK.

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