EU benefit tourism was already banned – so what exactly is Cameron boasting about?

The EU has always permitted restricting social security benefits to European migrants.

The EU has always permitted restricting social security benefits to European migrants

In a landmark ruling this week, the European Court of Justice has clarified that national governments can restrict certain welfare benefits for jobless EU migrants.

This was of course met with blaring headlines in the right-wing press triumphantly claiming that benefit tourism in the EU had been banned, while David Cameron welcomed the ruling as ‘a step in the right direction’.

However, less widely reported was the fact that the EU has always permitted restricting social security benefits to European migrants.

In fact, under a European law dating back to 2004, if you reside in another EU country for more than three months without finding a job you must show that you have sufficient resources not to be a burden on the state.

Moreover, you can only access social security benefits if you pass a strict residence test, one condition of which in the UK is having been in the country for over three months, so it is not true that EU migrants can simply turn up and access benefits from day one.

That perhaps explains why the Department for Work and Pensions has been unable to provide evidence that the UK suffers significantly from benefit tourism. In fact, all the evidence seems to show that being overwhelmingly young, hard-working and highly-skilled, EU migrants contribute significantly more to the public purse than they take out in services and benefits.

Moreover, many arrivals to this country actually create new jobs, with one in seven British businesses having been founded by immigrants.

The truth is that while freedom of movement is a fundamental principle of the EU, it has never been unqualified. It has always meant the right to work, study or retire in another EU country if you have the means to support yourself.

EU free movement is also a two-way street. Official government figures show that over 2 million Brits have settled in another EU country whereas 2.2 million EU nationals live in the UK. Freedom of movement is also surprisingly popular: a recent poll found that 52 per cent of the British public believe UK citizens should have the right to live and work anywhere in the EU (although admittedly just 36 per cent said this right should also apply to other EU citizens wanting to live in the UK).

So the notion that the EU permits and exacerbates benefit tourism has always been something of a convenient myth. While there are some outstanding concerns regarding in-work benefits, including the issue of child benefit being sent abroad, these can easily be fixed under UK law.

The claim that these issues must be dealt with in a grand renegotiation with ‘Brussels’ is a misconception that has been deliberately peddled by the Tories – and lapped up by the red tops – in order to create a straw man which they can then claim to have knocked down. The problem facing Cameron is that the European court has gone and knocked it down for him too early.

Eurosceptics will use this opportunity to try and push Cameron to make much more impossible demands that will push the UK towards EU exit. The rest of us should use it to champion the advantages of EU free movement and put the myth of benefit tourism firmly to bed.

Catherine Bearder is a Liberal Democrat MEP

9 Responses to “EU benefit tourism was already banned – so what exactly is Cameron boasting about?”

  1. Leon Wolfeson

    Well, probably because it opens the door to changes to strip benefits from many British people. But hey, details.

  2. swat

    It may be banned but its still happening. Just because we have a Law, doesn’t mean we’ve stopped the activity.Maybe better scrutiny and investigation is required, and a presumption that only Brits can claim, because they’ve contributed to the system; and if they havden’t then they too should be presumed to be excluded.
    Question to MEP: Do Brits abroad have equal access to all the Benefits that European Nationals do in their countries?.

  3. robertcp

    One of the main reasons that silly myths about benefits, asylum and the EU are believed is that Labout stopped challenging them in about 1995! This counter productive approach has shifted politics to the right.

  4. robertcp

    I assume that the answer to your question is no, because EU nationals do not have a right to arrive in other countries and immediately start claiming benefits! The problem with the UK is that we often implement EU laws too inflexibly and then whine about it.

  5. treborc1

    Which was where labour were heading anyway.

  6. treborc1

    Out of work benefits yes but most of new this anyway, but lets just say a polish family come to the UK looking for work and they have children, councils still have a duty of care to the children so we house them and we given them housing benefits we also have to give them food so we give them means tested benefits but not JSA.

    Who in his right mind would want families of immigrants living on the streets with children, people who are claiming asylum have to live and have to have housing until they leave or are granted permission to stay, they would not get out of work benefits but they would get income support, income support does cover people coming here who cannot find employment it is I believe not to sure paid for three months if a person cannot then find work or tries to claim again they are told to leave, only we tend to not ask them.

    we can do the same in other countries are entitled to have benefit given to use if we meet the EU crieria

  7. IndianaFlynn

    Why can’t we ask people at the border if they actually have any job opportunities? The idea that you can just upsticks and head for another country Dick Whittington style is preposterous. We shouldn’t be in a position where we have to house anyone purely because they thought they’d get a better deal on our shores.

  8. Guest

    Ah, so it’s all the fault of the Other, and ever-more needs to be spent to persecute the poor, billions for investigating millions in issues – as you say “they to” – British people too – should face a presumption of exclusion.

    That’s your real target, the British poor.

    And no, we don’t have “equal access”, in many cases, since they’ve restricted UK people’s access since the UK clamped down. Can’t blame then.

  9. Guest

    Ah yes, gotta ask the tourists and business visitors…

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