Cameron cuts EU migrants' unemployment and child benefits

UK Prime Minister David Cameron set out new benefits rules for EU migrants. 12 May 2010. [Number 10/Flickr]

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday (29 July) set out new welfare rules to cut European migrants' access to social security payments, marking the latest in a string of British measures aimed at addressing voters' concerns over immigration.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph newspaper, Cameron said that from November migrants coming to Britain from the European Union to find work would be entitled to claim unemployment and child benefits for three months, rather than the previous six months.

Opinion polls show immigration is one of voters' biggest concerns going into a national election in 2015, fuelling a rise in Eurosceptic sentiment that has helped the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) draw voters away from Cameron's Conservatives.

In a bid to stop voters defecting, Cameron has said he wants to cut net migration and has targeted those who he says come to Britain solely to tap its benefit system.

"We're [...] making sure people come for the right reasons - which has meant addressing the magnetic pull of Britain's benefits system," Cameron said.

EU to "scrutinise" Cameron's plan of curbing EU migrant benefits

He said that by restricting job seekers' welfare access to only three months he was sending a clear message to potential migrants, "You cannot expect to come to Britain and get something for nothing."

The opposition Labour party has criticised Cameron for not doing enough to stop low-skilled migrants driving wages down.

Other rule changes introduced since January have included tightening the criteria for claimants and mandating longer waiting periods before migrants become eligible for payments.

European Union officials have in the past criticised Cameron's approach to immigration and said that there is no evidence to show migrants move to Britain to claim benefits.

Nevertheless, other European countries such as Germany have expressed sympathy with Cameron's concerns, and it is one of only a few policy areas where he has support for changes to EU rules.

In the face of Eurosceptic sentiment within his own party and the wider electorate, Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain's ties with the EU if he is re-elected, and then put the country's continuing membership to a public vote in 2017.


May 2015: UK General Election

2017: Potential UK referendum on EU membership



kamenchanov's picture

I would not deny that social benefits migration is not a problem in the EU. Speaking with disappointment, I have met too many people from my country pursuing this exact purpose by moving to another EU Member State. However, this is a problem which necessitates an EU-wide decision precisely because of the fact that it is the EU that caused it in the first place with its "non-negotiable" right to free movement. Granting this right to EU citizens bears economic consequences on Member States which the EU is obviously reluctant to address. Although it took one entire year for the UK to issue my work permit (not social benefits) when Bulgarians were still obstructed from entering UK's labour market, I do not blame them for not wanting to provide social benefits to non-British citizens. The EU should not be allowed to impose this burden on Member States.

Once again, there is a solution, though politics (as usual) undoubtedly gets in the way of its execution. It should be an EU agency that provides social benefits to migrating EU citizens. Since Member States are already doing this, why not pool the money into a European Social Benefits Fund which can afterwards be allocated appropriately? Eligibility criteria can be easily divided into several categories: 1) students (first and foremost); 2) workers (with insufficient income to support their families); 3) unemployed (and unpaid interns). This should cover the most basic groups of citizens that would need social benefits.

Of course, such a suggestion raises many questions and obstacles but each and every one of them has an answer, and thus, a solution. I have thought so much about this issue I should probably write a Regulation -.-

Any thoughts anybody?

an european's picture

Completely agree with you including the youth unemployement!
Since the E.U. doesn't have a treasury nor a budget under E.U. level then - i ask me - why not doing so!
I tell you something !
E.U. leaders or Council fear the words " f e d e r a l " !
They fear (I don't know why )and because of this -they are still pussyfooting in Intergovernmentalism!
So the Council are useless continuing that moron economic after the crisis began still thinking they could get out of the stagnation !
How much did I hear the word federal from meps or Leaders ? Not much !
Without changing at least to a real little governance the actual "institution" unfortunately is already condemned I
It's either the one or the other but not between !
Either Leaders take a real step in unification or be furthermore full restricted .

Joe Thorpe's picture

The trouble is that it is the same few countries that are taking the strain in the EU. All the countries that should be reforming are simply doing the King Herod & washing their hands of their citizens fleeing their economies that can't sustain their citizens. Countries that have populations that have fleeing populations must be sanctioned, they are simply exporting their problems while living off EU subsidies & the countries that they land in are those that are the net contributors to the EU budget. The benefits paid to non nationals should be tax deductible from EU budget payments

Southron's picture

I have yet to see any convincing numbers of "emigration for benefits". Talking about myself (an expat into the UK), i didnt even knew what I could claim here.... let alone how to claim it.

Any way, now I work and pay alot of taxes here - so I do damn feel entitled to whatever those taxes pay.

A Londoner's picture

A common UK view! If you have contributed you are entitled to claim (and you are). But if you are newly arrived and have contributed nothing you should not be entitled to claim.

an european's picture

Ah forgot to say ..England can be remain totally outside without free trade with the E.U. !
A total isolation from Europe would be a benefit for Europe !
Should the European Union still listen to Cam*r*n continuing acting undemocraatic and self-interested ? In no way further !

Rene Leliveld's picture

I never used the benefits cause I always worked and payed my tax and NI here through my work, I always worked here for English companies and did the Dutch market. 15 years I paid tax and NI and now he is telling me that I am not able to claim more then 3 months? how about my daughter, she is not guilty of all the lazy buggers who come here for benefits. Cameron I might predict the future now- you will take away my right for medical care and pension so Mr and Mrs Jones with their four lazy sons who also never worked just like their parents and grandparents will get all the benefits they need? I agree that the benefit system is giving to much to the people but improve the world and start with equality! Should this rule count for all benefit users then I agree, now I won't.

Joe Thorpe's picture

I dont think you have read what he said. If you just came in off the boat "LOOKING" for work you would only get job seekers allowance for 3 months & then you would be expected to stand on your own two feet just like a non EU national would have to or go home. If you are here & part of the fabric, settled, contributed (As you clearly have) & integrated into society you would be treated no different to those that were born here, grew up here & didn't simply fly here.

A Londoner's picture

You have misunderstood the proposal. It only applies to an unemployed EU citizen who is newly arrived in the UK.

A Londoner's picture

The problem is the British system of in-work benefits paid to low-income workers . A man on the minimum wage (£6.31 an hour ) with two children and a non-working wife would earn £221 a week but after payments from the government (child support and rent allowance ) would receive up to an extra £295 a week giving a total of £516 a week.

The change the government is proposing only applies to EU citizens who come to the UK to look for work. Once they have a job they have to be treated the same as a UK citizen. It is a gesture by the government which will save very little money but it is all they can do under EU law.

I think that generous welfare systems requires a strong sense of community to underpin them. Mass migration may be good for the economy but seems to undermine that sense of solidarity.

GeorgeMc's picture

@ A Londoner
Excellent post, sums it up really well!

Joe Thorpe's picture

Why can't benefits simply be paid for by the country you are from? If you have your stamp paid for in a country that country should maintain your benefits until you have accrued sufficient stamps (or whatever it is other countries) in your host country just like you would if you had emigrated to a non EU country like Australia where you would have to stand on your own two feet

kamenchanov's picture

Because it is not realistic to expect from the current economic situation that every country would be able to pay benefits (whatever their type) to its citizens wherever they go. I come from Bulgaria and I did not even know about social benefits until I went to study in the Netherlands after I completed a Bachelor's degree in the UK. My country stood idly by while we were subjected to the full seven years cycle of work restrictions (which cost me more than one job opportunity...), it has no money to stabilize the health sector, or to rejuvenate the railroads. Pensions range from 120 euro to a maximum of 400. You cannot expect from such a country to cover the costs of its own migrating citizens. Of course, this is not true for countries such as the UK, the Netherlands and Germany. But why impose an obligation on those countries to take care of their citizens abroad if not all Member States would be even remotely capable of doing the same thing?

Migration can be broken down into numbers. A good statistical study can register the reasons behind it, as well as the past, current and future costs. I am completely in favour of the right to free movement. But I am also a realist and only stubborn people would ignore the fact that such migration necessitates proper direction. Otherwise it is like leaving a baby to steer a car... It is only natural that every right should have a corresponding duty.

In that sense (another extremely unpopular opinion), why not discuss one of the other elephants in the room - the language barrier? I find it extremely disrespectful that people would leave their own country to work in another Member State without being able to sufficiently speak or understand the language of the host MS. I did not know Dutch when I moved from the UK to the Netherlands, but I somehow saved some money and started visiting Dutch courses, despite the severe discrimination I faced from my teachers at the university or when I went to several job interviews.. Introducing a language requirement would relieve a great deal of the tension caused by this chaotic internal migration.

Seriously, it is like the politicians want us to be prejudiced against each-other...

GeorgeMc's picture

@ kamenchanov
You are clearly a well educated and thoughtful person and I put the following point to you for consideration.

The richer member states pay into the EU based on a percentage of GDP. Some of it does come back to the richer member states, but much of it goes to the new countries to help them overcome their problems (agriculture infrastructure etc.).

I would suggest that some way be found to help these new countries achieve their objectives, by keeping their people at home, particularly the educated ones. I am not for one moment suggesting that they should not be able to travel for employment. However, the whole situation reminds me when my young nephew used to play football (6 years old). The kids were too young to young to understand the tactical and clever way to play football and chased the ball all over the park. They had 22 players on the park and 20 of them could at all times be found where ever the ball was, thereby leaving 90 percent of the park empty. It is a bit like that with the EU, the players turn up where ever the jobs are and the poorest of the countries are left to their own devices without the correct human resources. That does not seem too clever to me.

kamenchanov's picture

I completely agree with you. Particularly in the case of Bulgaria and Romania, the Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification has proven to be a weak incentive for change. Personally, I find it extremely frustrating that we are not in the eurozone or in the Schengen Area. It is one thing to opt out of something voluntarily, like the UK and Denmark, but it is an entirely different story if you are unable to meet the requirements. This is why external political pressure is needed to push for change. Believe me, I am just as discontent with my country's inability to properly contribute...

Unfortunately, I doubt it that we will see adequate political action in this regard. You can even find an article here on euractiv which states "Farage told free movement of workers in EU is non-negotiable" - Juncker's words.

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