The myth of migrants ‘flocking’ to Britain’s ‘soft touch’ benefits system

The desire to 'get on' isn't confined to affluent Westerners.

Asylum seekers ncr

The desire to ‘get on’ isn’t confined to affluent Westerners

The mayor of Calais has been sounding off like a Daily Mail editorial. On immigration, Britain is a ‘soft touch’ and its benefits system acts like a ‘magnet’ for migrants, Natacha Bouchart told the Home Affairs Committee yesterday.

Ms Bouchart, speaking via an interpreter, said:

“You have a much more favourable regime in Britain than other countries. The second thing is the entitlement to benefits of £36 which are given to asylum seekers or migrants, which is a huge amount for people who have nothing in their lives.”

This echos the narrative of much of the UK press as well as of UKIP, the Conservative Party and sometimes Labour.

But how true is it? Apart from anecdotes and hearsay, what actual evidence is there to suggest that migrants are flocking to the UK for our supposedly generous benefits system?

It is common currency on the right that Britain has the most generous welfare system – if not in the world, then at least in Europe. Yet this is a myth, according to the Economic and Social Research Council’s Centre for Population Change (CPC), with a number of other EU countries as generous as Britain in terms of social security per head:

Benefits-generousj

(click to zoom)

This data is also from 2007, before many of the rules about migrants claiming benefits were tightened by the coalition.

The data from 2010 also shows that, in terms of social security spending per inhabitant, France, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands all spend more in real terms than the UK on social security:

Social security

(Graph: BBC)

There are really two separate issues here that are very often conflated. One is Asylum seekers and refugees trying to come to the UK and the other is EU citizens exercising their legal right to come and work here.

Last year a European Commission report concluded that there was no evidence of systematic or widespread benefit tourism by EU nationals migrating within the EU, including to the UK.

The statistics bear this out. According to a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) report from 2011, 6.4 per cent of those claiming working aged benefits were non-UK nationals, meaning British nationals were two-and-a-half times more likely to be claiming working age benefits than non-UK nationals.

And anyway, EU migrants can’t simply sign on to claim Jobseekers Allowance as soon as they arrive in the UK – they must wait for three months; and even them they have to pass a tough Habitual Residence Test set before they can make a claim.

And what about the coalition’s welfare reforms that will apparently make a life on benefits impossible for any British citizen? Why would it be any easier for an EU citizen to milk the system?

But this isn’t what the mayor of Calais is actually talking about. It isn’t migrants from Poland and Romania that are camped out in Calais hoping to sneak into the UK – they can already come here legally. This isn’t about immigration per se; this is about the asylum system.

Many of the people we are talking about in Calais haven’t simply left their country for the sake of a better paying job; they are fleeing war-zones like Syria, tyrannies such as Egypt or hunger that plagues many parts of Africa. As Ms Bouchart herself put it, most of the estimated 2,500 refugees in Calais are Eritrean, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Syrian, Egyptian, Lebanese, Iranian and Iraqi – hardly bastions of freedom.

It would be fairly far-fetched to claim that these people are fleeing their homelands due to Britain’s generous benefits system.

It is of course arguable that one of the reasons migrants opt for the UK of France is due to accommodation rules for asylum seekers who arrive in the UK. In the UK asylum seekers have access to accommodation while their claim is being assessed; in France it can take four months for an asylum claim to be registered during which time no accommodation is available.

However it is unlikely that putting an end to this would deter asylum seekers from coming to the UK for the reasons I’m about to set out; but such a policy change would result in destitute asylum seekers sleeping rough in and around London. Not exactly good policy.

There is, though, one important reason that people often want to come to Britain ahead of other countries in Europe. It isn’t the benefits system, but has more to do with the international prestige this country (still) has overseas.

Before you scoff, this isn’t jingoistic hyperbole – anyone who has travelled extensively will know exactly what I’m talking about.

When I was travelling in South American a few years ago I met plenty of people who wanted to leave their native country and it was usually because they wanted to come to the United States or Britain. Not to claim benefits, but to work and make money. Almost all had the rose-tinted view that in Britain and the US if you worked hard enough the opportunities were there and you could prosper. Naive perhaps, but very different from wanting to ‘milk the system’.

For those fleeing war zones like Syria and Iraq, it’s fairly obvious why they might think of leaving – and it has nothing to do with signing on. Similarly, for those who aren’t fleeing persecution the long and perilous journey to the UK isn’t one that’s taken lightly, nor with the aim of coming to the UK to carry on being poor. It is made because the UK is viewed as a land of opportunity.

In other words, people want to come to Britain because it is a good place to live. That’s a profoundly positive thing.

The biggest irony of all is that it is right-wingers who claim to understand the human desire to ‘get on’ and aspire to something better. Someone ought to point out that this instinct isn’t confined to affluent Westerners.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

98 Responses to “The myth of migrants ‘flocking’ to Britain’s ‘soft touch’ benefits system”

  1. Guest

    Ah yes, facts mean nothing to YOU, as you slander the working people you hate, Dave/LB, as you lash against London (high immigrant), and talk to people in areas of low immigration who are afraid of a black face. And rich people like you who want to lower wages.

    “Engage” with only the “right” sort of person – Rich White Male.

  2. Guest

    “What a load of twaddle”

    Yes, your post is, and? And taxpayers, so you have no stake in this.

  3. Guest

    Thanks for admitting I’m not lashing out, as you sign your post appropriately again.

  4. Guest

    Thanks for showing your bitter hate of the NHS on made-up charges.

  5. Guest

    Where did he say he was letting you play with him?

  6. Guest

    Yes yes, facts can’t be ALLOWED to matter, Dave/LB, it has to be all about the fear of a black face. No matter how wrong you are.

  7. Guest

    Except the ones who are not, as you pontificate on the myth of the Rich White Man.

    I’d take any of the people at Calais over you, since they’ll be far better for this country than you.

  8. Guest

    And you, who actively hates this country, let’s not forget that!

    You and your alt sparky support ONLY your rich crossing borders, right, and that it’s evil for the 99%.

    You abuse rights you’d deny others, check, as you mix with your fellow rich people to the exclusion of all else. Keep spewing your hate against the Other, as you say Britain has far, far too little crime and far far too little unemployment, as you show off your bigotry.

  9. Guest

    The US lets in lots and lots of Asians, while being high exclusive towards Europeans.

    Australia has twice the immigration per-capita.

    You have no idea, and are lying out your backside as usual.

  10. Guest

    Keep talking about your own posts, as you did.

  11. Guest

    Congrats, Dave/LB, you stop using your analogy as soon as it becomes inconvenient for you! What I said stands, of course.

  12. Cole

    Or Spain, France, Germany etc. About 2 million Brits have done so.

  13. Cole

    Really? How so you know? And I’m sure there are no British criminals living in the Costa del Sol.

  14. Cole

    Only about 10 million illegal immigrants in the US…

  15. B. MacIntosh

    You are deluded if you believe that facts explode myths. And….

    People want to come to the UK because it is a melting pot where they know they can use or learn the global tongue and become an equal citizen. And because they have friends or kin already here.

    The issue is not addressed by being smart. Try giving a number of how many people you think the Uk can take each year. If you cannot then you should seriously ask yourself why you are debating this issue when you cannot define your own position.

    Numbers are rising and will continue to rise and those who cannot state a number they consider the maximum feasible will be seen as irresponsible evaders.

    This period of illegals making it to the streets is going to end. It can end well when we implement very strict policies including rapid return and rapid deportation or it can end badly with a UKIP/Tory government building internment camps. But it will end. The current intake is not sustainable.

  16. Guest

    What number do you give for how many million British people you would make poor and homeless?

    15 million?
    20 million?
    25 million?

    Let’s have a number out of you, as you talk about your hatred of trade and your demands for a closed border.

    Keep calling for the “camps”, for your purges and pogroms. For hate and bigotry to be institutionalised, for hysteria against the black face and the Other. You can’t allow democracy to last, oh no – those who won’t play along with your stupid number games will be first into the camps, of course.

    No – back in reality, not hating trade and the British economy is a perfectly good position.

  17. B. MacIntosh

    I did not mention trade. You are confusing my comment with your prejudices. Try responding to what you read, not to the stereotypes in your narrow mind.

  18. Guest

    It can’t separated out, as you call trade a “prejudice”, as I did in fact respond to you.

    Give a number, or you against the entire 99%? Your mind seems to demand I share your narrow 1% values, when I don’t, and you have a problem with people not sharing your hate for Britain.

  19. Guest

    Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised as you’re another Dave/LB post-history-hidden alt.

  20. B. MacIntosh

    Are you unable to address issues? All you do is fight imaginary fights in your head. You are so out of it. Deal with reality.

    Here is some reality. In 2008 I visited a large house in Lewisham, ten bedrooms, three toilets, one bath, two shower rooms. Fifty five residents including, four Romanians in top attic, an Iranian family, Iraqi family and Bosnian family second floor, first floor groups of African and Middle Eastern men and similar on the ground floor.

    The owner, a recent arrival from West Africa received fifty pounds per week per person from the council for rent. The house was designated as ten flats with Lewisham Council, easily achieved with a bit of cahoots. Total rent receipt in terms of housing benefit paid by council per annum: £130,000.

    Of the folk living there I knew three well and met a few others on one or two occasions. They all arrived filled with hope, dreams and decency. Good honest folk. After a year the hope is vanishing, they are despondent and ways out of the trap take over.

    Now to see what happens to similar folk when ways out are explored and exploited over the years switch to the slums of Paris, Berlin, parts of the East End of London, Rome around the central rail terminal and you find criminalised, degraded people whose life opportunities have been stolen from them by the false hope offered by idiots like you.

    It is idealists like you and the other fools crying racist on this site who are CAUSING these terrible situations to arise. YOUR beliefs lead to these terrible slums. You say WELCOME for my principles then dump them! That is your hypocritical morality.

    I try to confront the reality of the situation and all you do is insult me. You know nothing about what is going on in the lives of illegal immigrants who are living in the demi-monde of slums created by your ideals.

  21. B. MacIntosh

    You should try reading what is written without imposing your prejudices into it. I didn’t mention trade, I did not say anything against Britain.

    Try reading this if you can.

    Here is some reality. In 2008 I visited a large house in Lewisham, ten bedrooms, three toilets, one bath, two shower rooms. Fifty five residents including, four Romanians in top attic, an Iranian family, Iraqi family and Bosnian family second floor, first floor groups of African and Middle Eastern men and similar on the ground floor.

    The owner, a recent arrival from West Africa received fifty pounds per week per person from the council for rent. The house was designated as ten flats with Lewisham Council, easily achieved with a bit of cahoots. Total rent receipt in terms of housing benefit paid by council per annum: £130,000.

    Of the folk living there I knew three well and met a few others on one or two occasions. They all arrived filled with hope, dreams and decency. Good honest folk. After a year the hope is vanishing, they are despondent and ways out of the trap take over.

    Now to see what happens to similar folk when ways out are explored and exploited over the years switch to the slums of Paris, Berlin, parts of the East End of London, Rome around the central rail terminal and you find criminalised, degraded people whose life opportunities have been stolen from them by the false hope offered by idiots like you.

    It is idealists like you and the other fools crying racist on this site who are CAUSING these terrible situations to arise. YOUR beliefs lead to these terrible slums. You say WELCOME for my principles then dump them! That is your hypocritical morality.

    I try to confront the reality of the situation and all you do is insult me. You know nothing about what is going on in the lives of illegal immigrants who are living in the demi-monde of slums created by your ideals.

  22. Sparky

    Answer the question. What is your immigration policy?

  23. Fustrated tax payer.

    The £36 pound we are told is all the asylum seekers get is a totally misleading figure by the do-gooders of this country, they also get accommodation heating etc which all costs, if it was true France has an even better benefit scheme than ours were would i rather be, IN France, the truth is the french scheme may be better but is not as easy to get as ours, The French are no fools we are and are being told it by the French and people in this country still try and twist the truth..
    Please do not try and fool the British public anymore as you are only fooling yourself.

  24. David

    You defend welfare benefit tourism by saying ‘how dare people get the ability to get some shelter’. Tax payers are delighted.

  25. Guest

    I did, Dave/LB. You’re wrong as usual.

  26. Guest

    Where did I say I defended you, and what do you have to do with taxpayers?

    Keep advocating driving British people onto the streets, though.

  27. Guest

    I did, that’s your issue, as you call the very real issued “in your head”, as you scream that I must hate the Other as you do.

    You provide annecdote. And I see, your sweatshop crushed their dreams. Well, unsurprising…since the actual benefits are very low – I’m sure you held their passports etc. to trap them too.

    Your racism, as you try and deny it, as you actively cause the problems through your behavior…then you blame me for you. It’s disgusting.

    I don’t support illegality, get over it. You are the exploiter here.

  28. Guest

    Yes yes, thanks for once more copy/pasting about your slumlord and sweatshop activity, as you rage against Britain.

    Thanks for highlighting your enemies – “hope, dreams and decency”, as you highlight the fact you trap people with your indecent morals and then blame everyone else for them.

  29. Guest

    So basically, you’re making up crap to justify your hatred of asylum seekers…who, I note, Farrage supports. Totally different to general immigration as a topic.

    You’re the one trying to fool the public here.

  30. Just Visiting

    James – the bulk of your article is lifted directly from your July article

    Message to David Cameron: you have no evidence the benefit system acts as a ‘magnetic pull’

    The same graphs and reports – which are as misleading as they were in July.

    a) what relevance is a 2007 graph of social spending ratio to GDP: to benefits given to immigrants today?

    b) Also out of date: a 2011 (DWP), and anyway the report itself says at the top, that it does not provide the info you claim it does, the report says

    > These statistics do not provide a measure of non-UK nationals currently claiming benefits
    based on their current nationality.

    Worse – you totally lied about what the report said.

    Your words:

    > 6.4 per cent of those claiming working aged benefits were non-UK nationals,

    Whereas the report said

    > of people were claiming DWP working age benefits… (6.4%) are estimated to have been non-UK nationals when they first registered for a NINo

    Your lie was blatant: to remove the fact the DWP report was only about ‘first registered for a NINo’.

  31. Just Visiting

    James -why did you not bother to look for more recent facts in July or now?
    Why did you not look for facts that would be relevant to the theme of non-UK nationals on benefits?

    I googled and found:

    > of 1.44 million people claiming Job Seekers Allowance in 2011, 8.5% of these were non-UK nationals

    > 60,100 claimants from EU countries … 2.9 % of overall claimants.

  32. David

    Where did I advocate that? The issue in question is about welfare benefit tourism and ‘economic’ migrants claiming welfare benefits such as tax credits and housing benefits, not a host nations nationals claiming such benefits.

    What do I have to do with tax payers? Well to start with I’m a tax payer and I’d like lower taxes for everyone. With a rising welfare bill this could lead to higher taxes.

  33. TruthBeatsLies

    Why all this ratatatat about EU migrants…? When the biggest immigrant problem we have – by far – is with incomers who are NOT from Europe, but 3rd-Worlders who DO NOT hold an EU passport and are mainly from Africa and the Indian Sub-Continent…?

  34. TruthBeatsLies

    Why all this ratatatat about EU migrants…? When the biggest immigrant problem the UK has – by far – is with incomers who are NOT from Europe…! – but 3rd-Worlders who DO NOT hold an EU passport because they are mainly from Africa and the Indian Sub-Continent…?

    When it comes to debates about immigrants it’s high time this country sorted out who’s who.

  35. Dave Roberts

    Give up mate, Leon/Guest/BillyBonkers is mad.

  36. Dave Roberts

    BillyBonkers.

  37. Dave Roberts

    BillyBonkers, that’s my name for you Leon/Guest.

  38. Dave Roberts

    He’s mad mate, stark raving.

  39. Dave Roberts

    I blame Care in the Community for allowing nutters like Leon/Guest/BillyBonkers out of the asylums.

  40. Dave Roberts

    Billy/Bonkers again.

  41. madasafish

    “It is of course arguable that one of the reasons migrants opt for the UK of France is due to accommodation rules for asylum seekers who arrive in the UK. In the UK asylum seekers have access to accommodation while their claim is being assessed;……

    And ,meanwhile ,you complain- rightly – about a major shortage of accommodation for UK nationals.

    And you can’t see the correlation?

    No wonder people think the Left are utter hypocrites on immigration…

  42. morry

    morry

  43. AngelicSchmoople

    I disagree. I’m from outside the EU. My partner is a UK citizen, but does not earn enough as a student to legally “bring” me here. I’ve also been a fee-paying student at a UK university. And I have skills that would be beneficial to the UK’s economy. Still, many companies that would love to take me on cannot sponsor my visa in order for me to work with, even if they’re having trouble filling the position locally. Sorry, but your country’s immigration system really needs some work.

  44. Snowmuncher

    You claim that Britain has some sort of international prestige over and above countries like France and Italy. You claim that anyone who has traveled internationally knows that. I lived and worked for around 5 years all over South America, Central America and Mexico. My Spanish was fluent although rusty now. I have studied in Havana University and in Malaga in Spain. I have spent another 10 years living in countries in Europe and Eastern Europe. I have visited around 60 countries. My long term partners are and have been South American and Eastern European. There is no “international prestige” over and above countries like France, Germany and Italy. Eastern Europeans often perceive Italy as being on a higher plane. The issue in South & central America & Mexico is the language spoken in the US for obvious economic and geographical reasons. What Brits speak is incidental to them. You are deluded if you think Britain has any more international prestige than France, Italy or Germany, and many other countries. The reason in my opinion that so many migrants are in a stable country like France but still want to come to Britain and camp out in Calais is that we are an easy touch generally, led by a hand wringing left wing media, and weak politicians and there are no id cards. That and the fact that most of them are desperate. If those in Calais are still desperate, then can claim asylum in France. It’s so obviously the case that they are not desperate, they are very picky.

  45. Snowmuncher

    It’s useful to compare the situation of Migrants now with European Jews before and during WW2. It was certain death for them in a concentration camp if they stayed where they were. Britain quite rightly allowed in about 90,000. What we see today with migrants from outside the EU is on a whole new enormous scale. Between 2005 and 2015, around 3 million gross non EU immigrants came into Britain, per ONS data. Asylum claims in the UK were around 25000 to March 2015 and a similar number the previous year and peaking in 2002 of 84000. The percentage of successful claims varies from year to year but latest was 40%. Once the mostly young men successfully get asylum, they then start the process of bringing all their family over. The number over the past 15 years of immigrants from non EU developing countries and asylum seekers is in the millions, and it is never ending. Africa’s population is 1.1 BILLION now, and forecast to be 2.4 billion by 2050. The European Jews were just 90,000 people before & during WW2.

  46. Snowmuncher

    Scary, that you deleted my comment that was completely factual but obviously you don’t like someone’s opinion that is different to the article.

  47. Ann Russell

    £300 a week is good money in London? Um- when did you last actually live in London?

  48. Snowmuncher

    “heck of a lot of British emigrants in the world too. Hong Kong, Dubai, New York and the various cities of Canada and Australia, not to mention across Europe”

    These ex-Pats are completely different to migrants from Sub Saharan Africa and Pakistan, Bangladesh etc. They are invited to a country on the basis of a job due to skill shortage, normally a temporary work visa (unless EU), they contribute to the economy massively. It is almost always temporary and as such they do not apply for citizenship, and almost always return to the UK after a few years.

    Almost all migrants from Sub Saharan Africa to the UK, (for e..g a family with 5 children) cost the UK a fortune for many years in housing costs, benefits, education of children (£5000 a year per primary school child, £10,000 a year for a secondary school child per year), and free NHS healthcare. A family of 5 migrants can easily cost the British tax payer £100,000 a year, if they don’t speak English and are jobless.

    Take the Emwazi family who claimed asylum from Kuwait. It was widely reported in the press that for 20 years both parents were unemployed, receiving £40,000 on benefits (equivalent to earning £60,000 a year) and were given housing in some of the most expensive residential areas in the world in London: St Johns Wood, Little Venice. The rent of a cheap four bed home is £3,000 a month in those areas. The son, Mohammed Emwazi, is reported to have headed off to join ISIS and became Jihadi John.I suppose he wanted to thank us all for everything he was given in the UK.

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