PM talks tough on migrant benefits
Published 25/03/2013 | 00:16
David Cameron has warned immigrants that they cannot expect "something for nothing" in the UK, as he set out plans to make it more difficult for them to access benefits, social housing and health care.
The Prime Minister used a keynote speech on immigration to declare that he will not allow Britain's welfare system to be a "soft touch" for people from overseas.
But he was accused of "scaremongering" after it emerged that only a small proportion of incomers from new EU states in Eastern Europe have claimed unemployment benefits.
And Labour dismissed the speech as "windy rhetoric", arguing that some of the key employment and housing measures trumpeted by the PM are no different from existing schemes.
Speaking at University Campus Suffolk in Ipswich, the Prime Minister said that the previous Labour government let immigration get "far too high and badly out of control" and allowed the benefits system to become a "soft touch".
He said: "While I have always believed in the benefits of immigration, I have also always believed that immigration has to be properly controlled. Without proper controls community confidence is sapped, resources are stretched and the benefits that immigration can bring are lost or forgotten."
From next year, arrivals from the European Union will be stripped of jobseekers' benefits after six months unless they can prove they have been actively looking for a job and stand a "genuine chance" of finding one, he said.
New guidance to be introduced this spring will create a "local residence test" to give local people priority in the waiting list for social housing, after the proportion going to foreign nationals rose from 6.5% to 9% between 2007/08 and 2011/12.
The NHS will be told to improve its record of recouping the cost of treating European patients from their home countries and migrants from outside the European Economic Area (the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) will need insurance to access care.
The NHS last year wrote off £12 million in uncollected charges for treatment of foreign nationals. But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the total cost of "health tourism" in a system he described as "chaotic and often out of control" could be significantly more than £200 million.