An answer to a written question, quietly sneaked out over the Christmas period, suggests that the Government has admitted that no hard evidence exists to prove benefits attract immigrants to the UK.
A written question from the House of Lords, submitted by the former Labour leader Lord Kinnock, asks the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to “provide all factual evidence” that the benefits system is “encouraging immigration to the UK from other EU member states”.
Responding to the written question, Tory Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud says: “The benefits system is one of a range of factors attracting migrants to Britain.
“Net migration to the UK stood at 336,000 in the year to June 2015 according to the November 2015 Migration Statistics Quarterly Report from the Office for National Statistics, and EU nationals are a significant contributor to recent increases.
He added: “Meanwhile, an analysis of administrative data held by the Department for Work and Pensions showed that between 37% and 45% of all recent EU migrants were in households supported by the benefits system as of March 2013.”
However, Jonathon Portes, an expert from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, told Mirror Online that Lord Freud’s response “doesn’t show any connection at all between people coming here and wanting to claim benefits”.
Mr Portes accused the Government of “trying to blow smoke”, adding: “If they wanted evidence of benefit tourism they could commission a study – the government knows that perfectly well.
“I know lots of people in Whitehall and there’s no senior policymaker in Whitehall that thinks benefit tourism is a big problem, or that changing the rules will stop people coming to Britain.”
Lord Kinnock asks government for factual evidence on “benefit tourism.” Government admits it doesn’t have any: pic.twitter.com/2PmAmh8w9f
— Jonathan Portes (@jdportes) January 5, 2016
Lord Freud added: “The Government has already introduced tough new measures to ensure that EU jobseekers will have no access to means-tested benefits whatsoever as Universal Credit is rolled out.
“And now we want to ensure that the welfare system plays no part in the migration decisions of any EU national.
“The Prime Minister is therefore pursuing further reforms to ensure that EU migrants who come to the UK for low-paid work cannot claim in-work benefits until they have lived here and contributed to our country for a minimum of four years.”
Speaking on the Andrew Marr show this morning, David Cameron said he remained committed to securing a deal with EU member states to prevent migrants from claiming in-work benefits for up to four years.
The move would almost certainly be illegal under current EU discrimination laws, unless British citizens were also subjected to similar restrictions.
David Cameron is currently in the process of negotiating with EU leaders in an attempt to win a “better deal” for Britain ahead of an in-out referendum expected later this year (2016).
The Prime Minister said he wishes the UK to remain in a “reformed European Union”, but added that he would “rule nothing out” in the event that he couldn’t secure an acceptable deal.
It is believed that MPs within the Conservative Party will be permitted to “follow their heart” and campaign to stay or leave the EU.
However, reports in the EU-skeptic right-wing media claim that Tory MPs are being prevented, or censored, from speaking out against the UK’s membership.