A future Labour government would restrict access to benefits for EU migrants arriving in the UK, it has been announced.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves said Labour would work with other EU countries on extending the period EU migrants must wait before they can claim out-of-work benefits, from three months to “at least two years”.
Secondly, a future Labour government would limit in-work benefits paid to EU migrants, “to tackle undercutting by employers who rely on low skilled migrant labour”.
Labour would also stop child benefit and child tax credits being claimed for children living in other countries.
Labour claim House of Commons figures show up to £700 million of working-age benefits goes to EU migrants. And also that the government does not collect information on how long these benefit recipients have been living or working in the UK. Some may have worked for several years, say Labour, but others may be relatively recent arrivals.
According to a Labour analysis of House of Commons Library figures, there are 252,000 in-work families from the European Union claiming tax credits and there are 48,000 single people from EU countries claiming Working Tax Credit.
Labour’s apparent shift on immigration will undoubtedly reinforce the view shared by many people who say Labour is trying to “out-Tory the Tories”, or are copying UKIP. This view will have been further strengthened by the party’s pledge to continue down the road of austerity, be it in a “fairer way”.
The Conservatives called for a three-year ban on migrants claiming out-of-work benefits in the UK, while UKIP say it should be as long as five years. David Cameron would also restrict in-work tax credits for EU migrants, as part of a more widespread clampdown on immigration to the UK.
Any attempt to restrict UK benefits for EU migrants from any political party could be met with opposition from European Union officials and its member states.
Figures suggest EU migrants are more likely to be in-work than British nationals and immigrants are net contributors to the UK economy (£25bn). However, this does not take into account impact upon schools, housing, the NHS and other critical infrastructure.
Most experts agree the NHS would struggle to survive if not for migrants (including from the EU) working as nurses, doctors and in other roles.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves MP said:
“This week I’ve held a series of meetings in Brussels with EU government ministers, senior MEPs and members of the European Commission to discuss Labour’s plan to extend the period that EU jobseekers wait before claiming out of work benefits for at least two years, limit in-work benefits paid to EU migrants and stop child benefit being claimed for children living abroad.
“These measures will ensure our system is fair, and seen to be fair and put fairness and contribution back into the benefits system”, she said.
“Most migrants come to Britain to work and pay more in taxes than they claim in benefits. However, reform to our benefits system is essential when the latest figures show around £700 million of working-age benefits is being spent on EU migrants and millions more is sent abroad in child benefit for children who don’t live in the UK.
“The Government have had four and a half years to sort it out but have failed to deliver the changes Britain needs. David Cameron even said stopping child benefit being sent abroad would be, ‘difficult if not impossible’ to stop. No wonder he’s failed to deliver the reforms to Britain’s benefits system fairer. Millions of pounds of child benefit and child tax credit being sent abroad every year is yet another example of Tory Welfare Waste.
“A Labour government won’t admit defeat when it comes to delivering a fairer benefits system. We will deliver the changes that are right for Britain through negotiation and reform.”
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