How to deal with immigration concerns

Ministers have concluded that if they want to stop Romanians and Bulgarians getting some forms of welfare they may have to stop some Britons getting them too.

They are now considering changing some of the rights of British citizens in order to make it easier to limit access to healthcare, housing or benefits to new arrivals to the UK in a way which stays within EU law.

The government is drawing up a package of measures designed to bring Britain into line with policies already in use by other European member states and already deemed legal by the European Court of Justice

Councils will be urged to make greater use of new powers they have already been granted to give priority on council house waiting lists to those with local connections - whether born, educated or with relatives in their area. This could make it harder for people to move from one part of the country to another.

Those claiming non urgent NHS treatment may be asked to prove that they have been here for a year or more and are entitled to it. I suspect ministers will shun ideas for a new NHS entitlement card for all.

Ministers are also examining the possibility of linking some benefits to contributions which would have the effect of excluding new arrivals from eligibility.

This is what the Labour MP Frank Field was advocating at the weekend and would mark a radical break with the past.

Long before the Eastleigh by-election opinion polls showed that immigration was a key concern for many voters.

The imminent arrival of an unknown and unknowable number of Romanians and Bulgarians who are all free to work here next year is pushing it up the political agenda.

Labour are planning a Party Political Broadcast on the subject on Tuesday and a speech later in the week.

The discussions I am hearing about in Whitehall show just how hard it is to do anything about that anxiety.