The European Commission has requested evidence of the
government’s claims of large-scale ‘benefit tourism’ by EU migrants to the . UK
The claims, which the Commission believes to be unfounded, have sparked dispute between the executive body and the government.
The Commission’s legal challenge to the government's efforts to increase restrictions on who can claim benefits in the
has been criticised
by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary. UK
The clash follows the publication of a European Commission report which claims unemployed EU migrants number at fewer than five per cent of benefit claimants in the majority of the EU nations studied.
According to the report, less than 38,000 EU migrants claim Jobseeker's Allowance in the
and unemployed migrants made up
just 1.2 per cent of the total population in 2012. UK
EU migrants are “net contributors,” said European Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd, who added that the
has failed to provide credible evidence of the claims despite requests which
have spanned three years. UK
“The vast majority of migrants go to the
to work, and
they actually contribute more to the welfare system than they take out,” said
Downing Street has defended the claims and reaffirmed the notion there is “widespread and understandable concern” over EU migrants coming to the
to access benefits. UK
However, the Commission said there is no evidence that EU migrants are migrating to other member states with the motive of benefiting from their social welfare systems.
“The study makes clear that the majority of mobile EU citizens move to another member state to work and puts into perspective the dimension of the so-called benefit tourism which is neither widespread nor systematic”, said EU Commissioner László Andor.
Ensuring migrants don’t become a burden on the state has become a focus of the government in recent years, evidenced by changes not only to benefit restrictions on EU migrants, but to the requirements which British nationals must meet in order to sponsor a non-EU family member to settle in the UK.
The July 2012 changes, which saw the government introduce a minimum annual income threshold of GBP 18,600 for sponsors, have been justified by the government on the basis there is a pressing need to protect the taxpayer against welfare drain by migrants in this category.
However, such migrants have no recourse to public funds during their initial five-year probationary period and according to a recent study by Middlesex University London, non-EU partners were not a burden on the welfare system under the old rules.
With an absence of factual evidence pointing towards abuse of the benefit system by both EU and non-EU migrants, the proportionality of the restrictions is questionable. It seems the government is once again playing on the public’s fears rather than facts in trying to make a credible connection between migration and welfare dependency.