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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Statement on EU deal

Think tank IPPR analyses the outcome of the renegotiation, focusing on the contentious issue of EU migrants’ access to benefits:

• The 7 year emergency brake on in-work benefits

This policy is a compromise compared to the original 4 year restriction on in-work benefits for EU migrants that the Prime Minister sought as the renegotiation began last year. The emergency brake to limit in-work benefits can only be used in particular circumstances, with the support of other member states, and for a limited time period, and will be phased out gradually over the first four years of EU migrants’ period of work in the UK. There is also a danger of the proposal being tinkered with by the European Parliament or overturned by the European Court of Justice.

However, given the initial hostility aimed at the Prime Minister at the prospect of discrimination between EU workers, this deal also suggests a major change in views from other member states and an unanticipated compromise on a highly sensitive and emotive policy area. The fact that it can last for seven years reflects the seven-year transitional period of free movement controls for new member states; the government will therefore likely argue that this is a way of reversing some of the impacts of the UK's decision in 2004 to impose no transitional controls on workers from the A8 countries.

• Child benefit payments abroad

Again this represents a compromise for the Prime Minister, who initially wanted child benefit payments made to EU migrants with children in other EU countries to be stopped completely. Now they will be indexed to the conditions of the member state where the child lives (factoring in both the living standards and child benefit rates in those countries) and will not apply to existing claims involving payments to those with children abroad until 2020. But the proposal does go some way to addressing public concerns about the unfairness of the current system. Moreover, the fact this policy constitutes an EU-wide reform indicates a significant shift in the status quo on EU free movement and social security policy.

• Out of work benefits for EU migrants

The Prime Minister this week also referred to the changes to the rules for EU jobseekers’ access to Universal Credit. This will represent a significant shift in policy once Universal Credit is rolled out in full and will reflect public concerns about EU migrants’ access to welfare. But the reform is not a result of the renegotiation in Brussels; recent European Court of Justice judgments on German unemployment assistance have provided the legal space for Universal Credit to be restricted in this way.

Responding to the deal IPPR Research Fellow, Marley Morris, said:

“The discussions yesterday came down to finding agreement on some highly technical issues on the rules for benefit payments to EU migrants. It's doubtful that these reforms will significantly bring down migration from the rest of the EU. But our research suggests that the public care about the issue of benefits in principle, because they see the current rules as unfair on Britain, and so the changes are an important part of the final deal.

"On the other hand, when discussing the draft deal with some of our research participants in Peterborough, they were unimpressed with the details of the emergency brake - particularly when they discovered that its use had to be authorised by other member states.

"The question now is whether, in the public’s mind, these changes will be perceived as a credible effort to address concerns or as too complicated and insubstantial to fully convince.”


Lester Holloway – [email protected] 07585 772 633
Sofie Jenkinson – [email protected] 07981 023 031

Notes for editors:

IPPR has published a briefing on how the Prime Minister can negotiate changes to EU free movement rules as part of the current negotiations and changes to EU migrants’ access to benefits: