Benefit tourism fears largely unfounded, claims European Commission study

Backbencher October 17, 2013 1
Benefit tourism fears largely unfounded, claims European Commission study

Bryony Clarke reports on an EU study vitiating anti-immigration claims by the Daily Mail and Telegraph.

A European Commission study on European Union migration has reportedly rebuffed the ‘benefit tourism’ claims purveyed by the Conservative government and British newspapers.

Recent headlines in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail have raised concerns about the adverse impact of EU migration on Britain’s public services and welfare system, asserting that “600,000 unemployed migrants are living in Britain at a cost of £1.5 billion to the NHS alone”.

A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron disclosed this week that there was ‘widespread and understandable’ disquiet about benefit tourism, and the government was looking to review the current system and further existing measures that restrict the welfare rights of migrants. Conservative MP for Clacton, Douglas Carswell, has warned of a ‘tsunami of economic refugees’ and insisted: “We cannot both continue the free-at-the-point-of-use welfare state and allow Europeans to flee the eurozone and come here”.

However, the recent report carried out by a consultancy for the EU’s executive indicates the 600,000 figure is a considerable misrepresentation of statistics and the ‘benefit tourism’ fears are largely unfounded. The study revealed that EU migrants are both more likely to be in employment than UK nationals, and overall are contributing more towards the British economy than they are reaping in return.

EU migrants are both more likely to be in employment than UK nationals, and overall are contributing more towards the British economy than they are reaping in return.

Firstly, the 600,000 figure used by the Daily Mail to describe the number of unemployed EU migrants in the UK encompasses the whole ‘non-active’ migrant population, including children, carers, students and pensioners. To put this in context, the corresponding figure for the UK population as a whole is approximately 20 million.

The European Commission report moreover found that the ‘non-activity’ rate is 30% among EU nationals in Britain but 43% for UK nationals. Additionally, the unemployment rate among EU nationals is 7.5%, whereas for UK nationals it is slightly higher, at 7.9%.

Significantly, the study identified that EU migrants constitute only 4% of welfare beneficiaries, although they represent well over 5% of those in work. The picture painted by the report demonstrates that mobile EU citizens are statistically less likely to receive disability and unemployment benefits than UK nationals. They account for a limited share of welfare recipients and the budgetary impact of such claims on the national welfare budget is marginal. The study furthermore indicates that EU migrants across Europe continue to make a net contribution to their host countries’ finances, by paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

EU migrants across Europe continue to make a net contribution to their host countries’ finances, by paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Social and Economic Research, used the report to conclude: “EU migrants, like migrants in general, pay in more than they take out on average. We are left with the conclusion that in the absence of immigration the public finances would be in an even worse state… There is no evidence at all that so-called ‘benefit tourism’ is a significant issue.”

A spokesperson for the European Commission, Jonathan Todd, told the BBC: “The vast majority of migrants go to the UK to work… The more EU migrants you have, the better off your welfare system is.”

Speaking on the BBC’s Daily Politics’s show, Todd proposed that if the Conservative government could substantiate their claims about ‘benefit tourism’ and provide evidence of the ‘systematic, widespread abuse of benefits by EU migrants’, then the Commission would look at revising EU migration laws.

The new study was based on survey data, including case studies, and national administrative records. The consultancy did acknowledge, however, that there is a lack of official data on non-active EU migrants, so many of the figures are estimates.

The findings of the study have been disputed by Conservative MPs and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has said there was a ‘big question mark’ over the statistics. Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley, has argued that in many cases welfare claims made by foreign migrants are impossible to audit because the facilities are not in place to properly record the information.

Conservative backbencher Stewart Jackson was similarly dismissive of the study: “If you’re a pensioner from Portugal or the Czech Republic you’ve not contributed. If you’re a schoolchild, no-one would expect you to have contributed, but we’re not in a parallel universe. Those children have got to be housed, have healthcare and school places. The strain in hot-spots, like my own constituency of Peterborough, is very acute.”

“Those children have got to be housed, have healthcare and school places.”

The Conservative government is becoming embroiled in a deepening row with the European Union regarding its attempts to tighten the residency restrictions for benefits claimants. The European Commission has mounted a legal challenge to the government’s existing regulations and Ian Duncan Smith told the House of Commons on Tuesday that he is ‘utterly refusing‘ to make changes.

Bryony is a recent literature graduate and news junkie who has previously written for the Cambridge Student, the New Political Centre and the Independent.

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