Reform Welfare, Axe Benefit Tourism… & Open the Doors!

by Barry M-C on January 21, 2012

Driving through the open border between Luxembourg and Belgium - reinforcing how freedom contributes to opportunity & prosperity.

Matthew Elliot, who founded the Taxpayers’Alliance, has an interesting opinion piece in the Daily Mail today (20/01/12), on the need to address the issue of benefit tourism.  As Matthew writes, migrants should “Come here to work, not to claim benefits”.  Matthew’s “hook” is a study published by Chris Grayling today:

“which looked at the nationality of benefit claimants when they first applied for a National Insurance number.  The study found that 371,000 foreigners are currently claiming British benefits, just over 6 per cent of all claimants.  Those claims are estimated to cost taxpayers over £2 billion a year.”

Austerity politics or not, £2bn is a colossal sum and its payment to non-Brits seems to undermine the spirit of our collective social security system, of contribute-first.  (The reality is very different; for decades, our welfare programmes have drifted away from being a “contribute-first” system of support to become just another entitlement to be claimed from the welfare state.)

As Matthew writes,

 “There is a reasonable debate to be had about the extent we want to control immigration.  But there has to be a simple deal for those who do come here: come here to work, not to claim benefits.  That doesn’t mean no foreigners should ever get benefits.  If someone has come here seeking refuge from a brutal tyrant, works hard and pays their taxes for a number of years, but then loses their job in a recession then that is one thing.  But it is quite another if someone looks at the benefits in their own country, looks at the benefits here and concludes that they’re going to Britain to exploit our money.”

Matthew argues, further, that:

“we just can’t afford to provide benefits to anyone who can make it to theUK” but that “Unfortunately EU

The EU Parliament in Brussels

rules are making it harder and harder to keep the problem under control.  Rules intended to ensure that people can move and work freely throughout the EU limit our ability to put fair restrictions in place.”

He concludes by noting that:

“The welfare system is expensive and immigration is always a controversial political issue.  Keeping welfare affordable and allowing immigrants who need and deserve refuge inBritainwill only be possible in the long term if we are able to stop benefit tourism and maintain that simple deal I mentioned earlier: come here to work, not to claim benefits.”

Discriminating against foreigners, especially EU nationals over access to benefits is likely to prove problematic under EU rules.  The failure by Harrow Council at the European Court of Justice in the case of Mrs. Ibrahim (February 2010) was, in part, due to an attempt to treat foreigners differently to British residents.  As I was quoted in the Daily Mail (24/02/12) on the apparent implications of the Ibrahim case:

“We are very concerned with this outcome, as it appears to establish a major new legal precedent over benefit claims.

“It could well prove to be a floodgates judgment in that people who have not yet contributed to this country or who do not have the means to sustain themselves can now seek immediate help from state welfare services.

“This judgment would seem to make the EU policy of free movement impossible unless one greets new migrants at Heathrow with sizeable welfare handouts.”

It would be easier to require all persons to contribute first before they become eligible for benefits – be they foreign-born or domestic-born claimants.

Obviously, some safeguards would be required for the most vulnerable or for genuine asylum-seekers, but such a move would begin to tackle not just the costs of benefit tourism but the even greater economic, social and human costs of our domestic benefit culture. It would also have the advantage of being fair, equitable and just.  Why should hard-working, low-paid taxpayers contribute so much of their income to support workshy benefit claimants, regardless of their country of origin?

A piece of the Berlin Wall, near the EU Parliament - reminding us of the human cost of restricting free movement of peoples...

Further, a “contribute-first” policy would mean that the more energetic, entrepreneurial, educated, younger and hard-working would be willing to come to Britain (even if they had to pay taxes and have private medical insurance, say) and add real value to our society and economy; only the benefit tourists would be discouraged and, consequently, the understandable envy of foreigners (perceived or real) jumping to the front of the entitlement queue, especially in housing, would be much reduced if not eliminated.

Too often anti-immigration arguments are founded upon abuse of welfare benefits; take benefit tourism out of the equation and we’ll have an opportunity to embrace an immigration policy that welcomes any and all who wish to contribute to Britain, who bring with them the kind of skills and knowledge and drive that once made Britain great – and will again if we are willing to embrace freedom and allow the free movement of people without the harmful and divisive distortions and resentments caused by welfarism and benefit tourism.

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