The large increase in EU migration has come about for a variety of reasons. The addition of several lower income countries to the EU in recent years makes it more tempting for people to wish to come to a richer country like the UK to take advantage of the better pay, higher welfare benefits and better public services. The success of the UK economy in generating many more jobs at a time when several major continental countries are back in recession or stuck with very slow growth also encourages more people to migrate to the UK.
The original idea of free movement was the free movement of workers, not the free movement of benefit seekers. The UK has fallen foul of anti discrimination provisions in EU law when having a universal system of benefits. It means it is difficult or impossible for the state to restrict EU migrants from having access to income top ups, housing and child benefits which are universally available to low income or no income people in the UK. Some other continental countries have contributory based systems where new migrants do not qualify automatically because they have not yet worked and contributed in their new host country.
I have urged this government to switch us over to a contributory based system where all can be treated fairly but where UK citizens who have contributed – or who have earned entitlement by undertaking full time education here for a specified period – qualify for benefits that would not be given to new arrivals.
The government has tightened the criteria for eligibility within the current legal framework, and is now limiting the time someone can be out of work and looking for work on benefits to just three months. Going further and reducing the benefits “pull” of our system further should be relatively easy within the confines of current EU law, if the UK is prepared to change the basis of its welfare system. That still leaves open the bigger issue of the UK being able to control the numbers of job seekers who come and take jobs, which the Prime Minister has said he wishes to sort out in his renegotiation.