Access to benefits

The government has reminded me of action taken so far to limit access to benefits by recent EU arrivals in the UK.I thought many of you might like to see it, as this is a matter you often write about:

“• New EU migrants who arrive in the UK as jobseekers will only be able to claim benefits for 3 months.
• This halves the amount of time EU jobseekers are able to claim benefits, from 6 to 3 months.
• After 3 months, any EU migrant claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance will have a ‘genuine prospect of work’ test. If they don’t have an imminent job offer, they could lose their benefits and right to reside in the UK as a jobseeker.

These reforms are based on a simple principle. That EU migrants should come to the UK to work and contribute, not to claim benefits.

The reforms tighten up access to our welfare system for EU citizens and help ensure that EU migrants are not in the UK to take advantage of our benefits system.

These new measures are the latest in a series of Government reforms in the last 12 months to ensure the UK benefits system is increasingly focussed on EU migrants coming to the UK to work and contribute.

The following measures are already in place.

• From 1 January 2014, all EEA jobseekers have had to wait for 3 months before they can claim income-based JSA.
• After 3 months, jobseekers have to take a stronger, more robust Habitual Residence Test if they want to claim income-based JSA.
• Since April 2014, new migrant jobseekers from the EEA are no longer able to claim Housing Benefit (HB).
• Migrants from the EEA who claim to have been in work or self-employed in order to gain access to a wider range of benefits now face a new robust test to decide whether they should be considered a worker/ex-worker with a minimum earnings threshold.
• As of 1 July 2014, jobseekers arriving in the UK need to live in the country for three months in order to claim Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit for their families too.”

More needs to be done. We await the Prime Minister’s speech on migration later this year, which he has said will be central to his renegotiation with the EU. Your thoughts on what the PM should demand for continued membership of the EU, or what you would rather see for an independent UK on migration would be useful and topical.

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The CBI and a referendum on the EU

We read from the CBI conference that a few large companies and the CBI leadership are against an EU referendum. They think it could create uncertainties and make life more difficult for big business.
The opposite is the truth.

It would be interesting to know if these large companies who express this view have polled their UK shareholders, UK employees and UK customers. If they did they would very likely find that a majority of them want a referendum just like the majority of the public at large. A large majority of smaller and medium sized businesses want a renegotiation and a referendum on the results, as other business organisations have pointed out.

The CBI needs to be asked why it thinks our current membership of the EU is helpful or important to business. It is after all our EU membership that lies behind the very dear energy imposed on European business. It is the Euro many of these businesses recommended which has helped create poor demand and mass unemployment on the continent. It is some of the excessive EU regulation which prices European business out of work, making it less competitive worldwide.

Many countries in the world trade and succeed economically without belonging to the EU. The UK would do better without the high budget contributions, the dear energy and some of the regulations that the EU imposes. The rest of us can see that. Just as some big businesses changed their view on the Exchange Rate Mechanism and the Euro which they got spectacularly wrong in the past, so they will have to change their view on our current EU membership as they start to see the true burdens it imposes. They should not seek to undermine the UK negotiating position. If we do not succeed in negotiating a good deal then the people will vote for Out.

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Falling petrol and diesel prices


The sharp fall in the oil price in recent weeks is as welcome as a tax cut. We see the results at the petrol pumps, with petrol and diesel for our cars, vans and lorries down in price.

Politicians have made clear they want to see further falls. They may have their way. It always takes a bit of time for the fall in the oil price to feed through to a fall in the retail price of oil based products. There can be a good reason – the oil companies have to work through their stocks of oil bought at dearer prices before they get the benefits of cheaper oil which they buy now. The price of petrol of course never falls at anything like the percentage of underlying oil, because so much of the price at the pumps is government imposed duty. Total tax is almost two thirds of the price we pay.

A fall of 10-12 p a litre is still good news. It’s  a gain of more than £100 a  year for someone travelling for 8000-10000 miles year in a typical vehicle with reasonable fuel economy. That’s £100 available to spend on something else, which can help provide a further economic boost. It’s also part of the process of getting people used to much lower inflation than the UK has experienced for many years. Surveys show people still expect inflation to be above the Bank’s 2% target and are suspicious of claims it is lower. At the moment it is visibly lower, with food price competition also helping the family budget.

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The 2010 Conservative Manifesto on the EU and criminal justice




“We will work to bring back key powers over legal rights, criminal justice and social and employment legislation in the UK”

“We will never allow Britain to slide into a federal Europe. Labour’s ratification of the Lisbon Treaty without the consent of the British people has been a betrayal of this country’s democratic traditions.”

“We will introduce a UK Sovereignty Bill to make it clear that ultimate sovereignty stays in this country, in our Parliament.”

“a Conservative government will not agree to the UK’s participation in the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office or permit its jurisdiction over the UK”

We will work to “return powers that we believe should reside in the UK” in criminal justice


I will vote and speak today in support of the manifesto I supported  for the 2010 election.

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Let them vote


Yesterday Catalans went to the polls. They want the right to settle their own governing arrangements. The Spanish government refuses to let them. Apparently the Spanish government intends to ignore the wishes of Catalans expressed in their vote.

Yesterday the Kiev government exchanged shell fire with rebels in Donetsk. The two sides in Ukraine  cannot bring themselves to try words and votes instead of violence. The rebels do not accept the way they are governed from the centre, and the government will not try to find peaceful ways to reassure and win over the rebels. Above all it will  not offer them a peaceful route to more independence or self government.

The UK has shown the world how these matters of identity and belonging should be settled – by passionate argument and by votes.  The Scottish vote shows how a nationalist movement can be listened to. It is no good pretending these nationalist movements do not exist. It is better to try to find ways of peaceful persuasion so  a majority wants to  stay in the union, or to find a way for peaceful change to the relationship where the impulse to more self government or complete independence is strong.

Why can’t other parts of Europe give them a try? I do not like living in a Europe where one advanced country refuses to listen to the  views of 20% of its electors who do not like the current arrangements. I dislike even more seeing in Europe a country torn by civil war where rebels arm and attack the state, the state arms and attacks the rebels with no political process to try to deal with the differences. It is an indictment of the EU that it apparently sees nothing wrong with what the Spanish  and Ukrainian governments are doing.

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Today amidst solemnity and ceremony I will lay a wreath in Burghfield and a wreath in Wokingham Town Hall. I do so  to remember those who gave their lives in the two world wars of the twentieth century and other more recent conflicts.

This year I do so with more foreboding than usual. There have been many more acts of remembering of the Great War of 1914-18  in recent weeks as we bring to mind events now five score years ago.

The articles, books, tv programmes and pictures of that long and brutal Armageddon have allowed many of us to go over in our minds again just what our grandfathers and great grandfathers experienced as young men in the trenches. The film and diary record reinforces the desperate poetry of Wilfred Owen and others. He asked  whether it was “Dulce et decorum” “pro patria mori”. Could he say that death in those murderous fields was sweet and honourable  if done in the name of our country? He contrasted those feelings with the horrors of a gas attack.

The majority view can now be revised as the soldiers who were left have grown old and died of natural causes. It seems to be settling down to the view that our small professional army, then our mass citizens army, fought bravely and with pride. The political and military leadership was of more doubtful quality, leading to huge slaughter before an eventual victory. Many then doubted the wisdom of command. After it all they asked what had been achieved other than the victory.

Those who fought that war hoped the sacrifice of their comrades would not be in vain. They passionately wanted a permanent peace to follow. Instead, diplomatic and political bungling led to a repeat world war starting in Europe just 21 years later. That war had to confront a worse evil. British military personnel were not just fighting to defeat an aggressive Germany, but were fighting against a bestial ideology that threatened mass extermination of peoples they did not like.

As I reflect again on these heavy matters during the services, I will turn for comfort to the words of Abraham Lincoln. For at the end of the two world wars a new, better, more democratic and peace loving group of nations in Europe did eventually emerge. Lincoln’s speech was wrong about the importance of what those who survive  a war say and think about it. When he spoke of the sacrifice of the Union army at Gettysburg, he found phrases that have echoed across the decades:

“We cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, consecrated it. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people  by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth”

There is a vision we can all aspire to.


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Middle Eastern wars


The long Sunni-Shia civil war continues in several parts of the Middle East. The news from Syria is not good, with reports that the more moderate opposition that the west wishes to encourage against Assad is being squeezed between government and its more extreme opponents. Meanwhile in Iraq it is proving difficult to marshall the forces on the ground to counter the ISIL fighters.

As many military experts have predicted, it is difficult identifying and hitting suitable targets from the air against ISIL when they are dug into residential areas and are not easy  to single out  amidst the general population. Air power can destroy their larger military equipment when it is suitably exposed, and can deal with any concentration of ISIL fighting force outside residential areas, but it is less useful when fighters have infiltrated a community and can use the local population as cover or as collaborators.

In Libya the democratic government struggles to exert much authority over the country, which remains gripped by various armed bands and militias fighting for supremacy or advantage. The democratic government of Iraq has still to find the right voice to win over the parts of the country it does not control, as it also goes about the difficult task of trying to remove the influence of ISIL and other hostile forces from some of Iraq’s communities.

The recent BBC documentaries on the Afghan war served as a timely reminder of the trouble the previous UK government experienced in trying to win over the province of  Helmand for the Afghan civilian government. The BBC voiced US criticisms of the UK for not committing enough troops to the huge task, leaving our forces at times exposed or needing to retreat. US reinforcements were finally delivered in recognition that the province was very large and in need of substantial numbers of well armed personnel to try to provide the level of security the civilian administration wanted.

I read that we are now becoming more involved again in training local forces to help them carry out the dangerous and difficult tasks of policing these areas subject to civil war and ISIL insurrection. It should be easier for local forces than our own, as they speak the local languages and understand more of the local customs and politics. However, their task too will prove difficult or even impossible if there is  not a sufficient intensive political process undertaken to prove to most of the people living in modern Iraq that the  borders make sense and it is best as one country. Their forces also need to attain the highest levels of professionalism, keen to be neutral in the cause of justice between the competing people and communities. This is something they have to want to do. It is not easy teaching people unless they see the need themselves to behave in the recommended way.

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No to £1.7 billion must mean No


The Prime Minister and Chancellor were right to say the UK will not pay the £1.7 bn the EU demands. The UK does not accept retrospective taxation. We are already paying too much for our membership of the EU, and support for the EU is not strong. The UK and the US that sprung from the UK have long traditions of imposing democratic control over taxation and expecting remedy of grievances before approving more money for the government.

Ministers will now be under enormous pressure to give in, to reach an accommodation. They will be told they have to give in for the sake of UK relations with the EU. They will be told they must not operate illegally. They will be told the UK has to pay the money as it is the inevitable result of our signature on the treaties.

Ministers have more cards than the officials and the EU tell them they have. It does need the UK’s signature on the cheque, which only Ministers backed by Parliament can give. All the time  Ministers refuse to sign the EU has a problem.

Conservative Ministers all voted against the last 3 treaties for good reasons. We all thought they went too far and endangered the UK’s relationship with the EU. The UK is not part of the Euro by common consent. We should not  be expected to pay ever rising bills for the political structure needed to keep the Euro going. At some point the UK’s unsatisfactory relationship has to be sorted out.

To make sure Ministers do operate legally they should ask Parliament to approve a simple amendment to the 1972 European Communities Act, which would confirm that they are acting legally in not paying retrospective levies. The large majority of the British people have no wish to have to pay a tax rise to send more money to Brussels. Their Parliament should speak for them and back Ministers in saying No.

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Housebuilding, congestion and flooding


New housebuilding has risen from the lows  of the Great recession but is still running well below the levels the housebuilding industry thinks is necessary, and below the levels of new household formation. Part of this is related to the immigration issues which we have often debated on this site. Today I wish to look at other matters.

If the country chooses a Conservative government next May and if that government succeeds in getting a new deal to control migration from the EU, there will still be a need to build new homes for people already settled here and for the newcomers we still invite in from all round the world. No-one in the policy and political world is proposing an end to all migration. The UK is an attractive place and there will be  some further expansion of numbers.

This government has promoted more homeownership and more housebuilding through a variety of means. Mending the banks, setting out the Right to buy scheme, and creating a background of more jobs and growth have all contributed to the increase in new homes. More land has been made available for development.

There are still predictable tensions between housebuilders and settled communities accepting new development. In an area like Wokingham we have accepted substantial new building over the years. Some of this has been properly planned by the local Council with supporting roads, schools and other facilities. Some was pressed upon us by Planning Inspectors under the previous government’s top down regime.  The danger of this could be seen in aggravated flooding problems, road congestion and the need to expand school and medical provision without the local community always generating the capital receipts from the development to cover these associated costs.

Future development needs to be at a  sustainable level with care taken to ensure that substantial new development sites are properly prepared with good road access, public service provision and above all with proper methods of dealing with faster run off of  the surface water and with the waste water that buildings generate. Councils and the Highways Agency also need to use the opportunity afforded by new development to update and upgrade the road network which is becoming  increasingly congested.


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The road network


During the last government many road schemes were cancelled and little new road building took place. At the same time both local and  national government sought to manage the existing road system more intensively, often reducing traffic flows and traffic speeds. Sometimes this was necessary for good safety reasons. On other occasions it was done to try to force people out of the car and van onto public transport.

At the same time the government invited in large numbers of new people who owned cars and vans or aspired to do so, greatly adding to the vehicle stock and the congestion problems. Around 85% of all our journeys are made  by road transport. The success of privatisation of the railways in its first decade in boosting passenger numbers has  been followed by substantial rail investment which has also helped boost capacity and travellers. Because the initial base of 6% of journeys was so modest, even with good railway growth it was not possible to take the pressure off the roads by this means.

The Coalition government  recognised the problem of lack of roadspace,  but faced two difficulties in responding quickly. The list  of possible new road schemes ready to build was very short. It takes time to crank up good projects and get them through the design and planning phases. The government inherited a massive public deficit, and the one area the outgoing government had cut to make a start on deficit reduction was capital schemes.

The Chancellor has gradually reversed some of the capital cuts, and the Transport department is working away on more road schemes for the future. The country remains a long way behind where it needs to be. Every day there is a danger that a single incident will bring a major route network to a halt. One crash, or one section of roadworks can result in  long delays.

I will look at what could be done to improve both safety and vehicle flow on the roads we already have in a later post.

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  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
    Published and promoted by Thomas Puddy for John Redwood, both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU
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