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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Cameron needs a fair and plausible approach to reforming EU migrants’ access to welfare

Renegotiation of access to welfare must take in account the concerns of both British public & EU partners

A different approach to reforming EU migrants’ access to welfare could address the concerns of the British public, be more likely to win over European partners and be fairer to EU migrants, according to a briefing published by IPPR this week. The briefing proposes an innovative alternative that restricts out-of-work rather than in-work benefits and ensures migrants’ home countries pay their unemployment benefits for longer.

The Prime Minister, who is due to publish his letter setting out his EU renegotiating position soon, is highly unlikely to get the changes he is proposing to restrict tax credits and child benefit for four years for EU migrants. Not only do the Prime Minister's proposals qualify as discriminatory against EU workers in law but they will likely receive a lack of support from other EU leaders.

Taking this into account the briefing outlines a more plausible and fair way of reforming benefits for EU migrants, with a plan under which EU migrants must contribute to Britain’s finances before claiming out-of-work benefits in the UK.

The briefing’s recommendations would create a ‘sliding scale’ for determining EU migrants’ access to benefits. Under the plan set out in the briefing:

  • First-time EU jobseekers in the UK would have no access to non-contributory unemployment benefits (whereas now they get at least three months’ access after three months) but would be able to export their unemployment benefits from their former country of work for at least six months;
  • EU migrants who have worked in the UK for less than three years would have temporary access to Income-based unemployment benefits for a limited three month period (whereas now they would typically get six months’ access, with the possibility of a short extension);
  • EU migrants who have worked in the UK for three years or more would have the same access to out-of-work benefits as UK nationals (whereas now they would typically get six months’ access, with the possibility of a short extension).

The briefing recommends that the Prime Minister pushes for the following changes in the EU renegotiation:

  • Extend the qualifying period for the same access to out-of-work benefits as UK nationals from one to three years of working in the UK. The three years need not be continuous.
  • Ensure that EU migrant jobseekers only gain access to income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance after having recently worked in the UK
  • Extend the ‘exportability’ of benefits (whereby EU citizens can claim unemployment benefits from their former country of work while in the host country) from a three-month minimum to a six-month minimum. This will mean a longer period in which EU migrants can receive unemployment benefits paid for by their former country of work, not Britain.

The proposals outlined in the briefing meet the three tests Cameron needs to pass:

  1. Are the proposals legally feasible? We believe they are considerably more likely than the government’s proposals to be implementable through secondary legislation rather than treaty change.
  2. Do they meet the public opinion test? Public opinion research indicates that concern is centred on ‘benefit tourism’ and out-of-work benefits rather than in-work benefits.
  3. Are the proposals fair to EU migrants? We believe the balance of tightening the rules for some, protecting the rights of workers with a work record of more than three years, and protecting access to in-work benefits is more likely to be seen as fair by European leaders.

Marley Morris, an IPPR research fellow on Migration, Integration and Communities, said:

“David Cameron has a tough job on the EU renegotiation; he has to persuade other European nations of his argument for changes to welfare restrictions as well as addressing public concerns about EU migrants claiming benefits and avoiding legal challenges. His current proposals are legally dubious and will struggle to find support among other EU leaders.

”What we propose is a new way forward, one which ensures that only EU migrants who contribute in the UK get access to out-of-work benefits in UK, while ensuring that EU migrants who are first-time jobseekers in the UK can access financial support from their former country of work. A ‘sliding scale’ would strike the right balance, show the Prime Minister is making the kind of changes he talked about during the election, and take British and European public opinion with him.”

Contact

Sofie Jenkinson – [email protected] 07981 023 031

Lester Holloway – [email protected] 07585 772 633

Notes to Editors
IPPR’s new briefing - Freedom of movement and welfare: A way out for the prime minister? will be available from Tuesday 10 November from: http://www.ippr.org/publications/freedom-of-movement-and-welfare-a-way-out-for-the-prime-minister

IPPR’s 2014 report ‘Europe, free movement and the UK: Charting a new course’ stated that withdrawal from the EU would be a hugely retrograde step for the UK but that Britain needed to:

  • Address the problem of vulnerable low-skilled employment in the UK
  • Increase conditions on access to social security assistance for mobile EU citizens
  • Reform of the rules around transitional controls for future accession states
  • See: http://www.ippr.org/publications/europe-free-movement-and-the-uk-charting-a-new-course