Once again, the government puts being tough on immigration ahead of being correct about immigration

All migrants coming to the UK from the European Union will have to show that they are earning at least £149 a week for three months before they have access to benefits.

The government has announced today that all migrants coming to the UK from the European Union will have to show that they are earning at least £149 a week for three months before they have access to benefits.

The policy is set to come into force on 1 March.

According to the BBC, any European migrant who declares an income below the threshold will face further assessment as to whether they are in the UK to undertake “genuine” work.

Welfare minister Esther McVey has claimed that the measure would help “protect the integrity” of the benefits system.

Presumably then, migrants claiming benefits are a significant problem – or why else would you bother making a policy announcement on it if they weren’t?

Once again, however, this is a case of the government is being ‘tough’ on immigration rather than correct about immigration.

Predictably the government says that it doesn’t have any data showing the number of EU migrants that claimed benefits within three months of being in the UK. But there is plenty of other data out there – data which undermines the argument that benefit tourism is a problem requiring repeated high profile policy announcements.

So once more, then:

EU nationals represent just 2.1 per cent of all working age benefit claimants – despite making up 5 per cent of the working age population. Other figures in the same document (P10) show that 16.4 per cent of working age UK nationals were claiming a working age benefit – compared to under 6 per cent of working age EU nationals.

A recent OECD report found that immigrants make a net contribution to the UK economy equivalent to 1.02 per cent of GDP or £16.3 billion. As the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) has pointed out, if net immigration was reduced to zero then public sector debt would rise by £18 billion over five years.

As the European Commission has put it, “On average, mobile EU citizens are more likely to be in employment than nationals of the host country”.

The government has already introduced measures on January 1 preventing people from claiming out-of-work benefits until they have been in the UK for three months (and prior to that migrants had to wait one month).

In other words, this is yet another spurious dog-whistle announcement which appears to have the sole aim of appeasing concerns about something which is largely a fiction.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.