He has done it again! Today, Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, in an article published in the Daily Telegraph, put forward openly discriminatory policies against EU citizens. He announced that the UK would reduce the period of time non-British EU citizens could receive certain benefits to three months (how this can be legal under EU law is unknown to me but the UK government claims it is):
And we are announcing today that we are cutting the time people can claim […] benefits for. It used to be that European jobseekers could claim Job Seeker’s Allowance or child benefit for a maximum of six months before their benefits would be cut off, unless they had very clear job prospects. I can tell Telegraph readers today that we will be reducing that cut-off point to three months, saying very clearly: you cannot expect to come to Britain and get something for nothing.
Maybe such a move would be understandable if there was a genuine problem with welfare tourism and benefit abuse by EU migrants (which actually is the wrong terminology; its EU citizens living in a member state different from the one that issued their passport). But this is simply not the case! David Cameron is building up a straw man just to knock it down again for pure political reasons and accepts open discrimination to pursue these political ends.
I have already written about the real issues in the migration debate and can only repeat what Jonathan Portes said about Cameron’s actions at the end of last year: “phantom policies for a phantom problem”. On SEJ, we also published a very good piece by Oxford University researchers analysing what is going on.
If you don’t believe us, see what today’s Financial Times has to say about the situation:
The UK government has been unable to produce evidence of benefit tourism and has been criticised for not collecting adequate data.
A European Commission report published last year found that when all unemployment benefits were totalled, the UK was the only EU member state where there were fewer beneficiaries among migrants – of whom 1 per cent were claiming – than among nationals, where the figure was 4 per cent.
So there is actually evidence to the contrary, namely that EU migration in the UK does not add over-proportionally to the benefit burden. The overall effects are positive as quite a few studies have shown.
There is also no evidence for David Cameron’s statement that the UK benefits system has a “magnetic pull”. If you were a benefit tourist why on earth would you come to the UK? Wouldn’t you rather go to the EU countries with significantly more generous welfare systems than the one in the UK? What exactly is this pull and where does it show in official figures?
The real reason behind this move is of course party politics. As the BBC suggests, it is not about the money but the message. The government is likely to miss its own target of bringing net immigration down to the tens of thousands and wants to send out the message: “hey, at least we are trying as hard as we can!”
With UKIP breathing down the Tory neck after their successful European election and with the UK general election less than a year away, a key political battlefield now more than ever seems to be open discrimination and thinly-veiled xenophobia.
Unfortunately, the British Labour Party is not calling this bluff. It is not focusing on the real issues either but operates on the same political territory:
[…] Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said: “We need less talk from the Prime Minister on immigration and more action. Behind the rhetoric the true picture of this Government on immigration is one of failure, with net migration going up, despite David Cameron’s promise to get it down to the tens of thousands.
The general election campaign has clearly started. It is the fourth for me since I moved to the UK but never before have I felt so uncomfortable about the direction it is heading. An increasingly sour political arms race on the backs of foreigners is not what I expected from politicians that otherwise pretend to be open and liberal.
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