Monday 20 November 2017

British PM Cameron promises tougher benefit curbs on immigrants

James Tapsfield

IMMIGRANTS face tougher curbs on unemployment benefits and access to the health service, under a crackdown being unveiled by British Primer Minister David Cameron today.

The British Prime Minister will use a keynote speech to warn those coming to Britain that they can no longer expect "something for nothing".

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.

The UK Government is pledging to beef up the "range and depth" of questions in the habitual residence test, which checks that people meet residence requirements for housing and income-related benefits.

Mr Cameron will also target illegal immigration - doubling the maximum fine for companies that employ illegal workers to £20,000 - and signal action against so-called "health tourism" that could mean non-EU nationals have to prove they hold insurance before getting care.

The harder line will please the Tory Right, who have blamed the lack of action in such core areas for the party's dismal third place behind the UK Independence Party (Ukip) in the Eastleigh by-election.

In his spring conference address over the weekend, Ukip leader Nigel Farage claimed his willingness to talk about immigration was one of the main reasons for the party's surge in popularity.

Concerns have also been rising over an influx from Bulgaria and Romania when movement restrictions are loosened at the end of this year.

The increasing political focus on the issue was emphasised last week when Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg ditched the Liberal Democrats' policy of offering an amnesty to illegal immigrants who have been in the country for more than 10 years. He admitted the move would risk "undermining public confidence".

However, there have also been warnings that politicians' language is "wholly disproportionate" to the problems caused by immigration.

The Bishop of Dudley, David Walker, told the Observer: "Public fears around immigration are like fears around crime. They bear little relationship to the actual reality.

"The tone of the current debate suggests that it is better for 10 people with a legitimate reason for coming to this country to be refused entry than for one person to get in who has no good cause.

"It is wholly disproportionate as a response. It is especially galling in Holy Week, when Christians are remembering how Jesus himself became the scapegoat in a political battle, to see politicians vying with each other in just such a process."

Speaking at an event in East Anglia, Mr Cameron is due to say: "Ending the something for nothing culture needs to apply to immigration as well as welfare. We're going to give migrants from the European Economic Area (the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) a very clear message. Just like British citizens, there is no absolute right to unemployment benefit."

He will add: "While I have always believed in the benefits of immigration I have also always believed that immigration has to be properly controlled.

"As I have long argued, under the last government this simply wasn't the case. Immigration was far too high and badly out of control. Net migration needs to come down radically from hundreds of thousands a year to just tens of thousands.

"And as we bring net migration down so we must also make sure that Britain continues to benefit from it. That means ensuring that those who do come here are the brightest and the best the people we really need with the skills and entrepreneurial talent to create the British jobs and growth that will help us to win in the global race."

Insisting the NHS must be able to reclaim money from people who are not eligible for treatment, Mr Cameron is to say: "We should be clear that what we have is a free National Health Service, not a free International Health Service."

Mr Cameron will confirm the heavily trailed move to keep immigrant families off council house waiting lists for up to five years.

Statutory guidance will be issued obliging local authorities to introduce minimum residency times for joining lists - or justify why they are not.

The Prime Minister is expected to cite figures showing that nearly one in 10 new social lettings go to foreign nationals. The proportion has risen from 6.5% in 2007-08 to 9% in 2011-12.

Ministers will take steps to ensure British nationals are protected when they move for "genuine reasons" - such as work or family breakdown - by ensuring local authorities retain the ability to set exceptions.

Mr Cameron will also reiterate his commitment to reduce net immigration to below 100,000.

Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said some of the Government's proposals on housing allocation were "quite interesting" but he wanted to see the details.

He told Sky News' Murnaghan programme the Labour government "got some things wrong", saying the points-based system was introduced "far too late".

But he added he was "slightly bewildered" about what new power Mr Cameron thought he was introducing.

"Since the Prime Minister came to power, the number of illegal immigrants stopped at our borders has fallen, the number of people absconding from Heathrow has grown and the number of foreign criminals deported has fallen," he said.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said he welcomed moves that would stop people "leeching" off the system.

But Mr Johnson told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that he believed such immigrants were in a minority, and said the UK was losing out because it did not have a "sensible" visa policy.

Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, said immigrants were "significantly less likely" to claim benefits than people born in the UK - and that those coming from EU countries put more into the economy than they took out.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that arrivals were mostly younger people whereas the bulk of spending went on healthcare and pensions for older people.

"All the evidence suggests that people who come here from within the European Union make a substantial net contribution to the public finances - they pay in far more than they take out," he said.

He also played down the impact of health tourism as a "minuscule" part of a wider funding issue.

"We have a very serious problem in this country over the long-term financing of our health service.

"We all want good healthcare, especially as we get old, and we are not prepared to pay the taxes required to fund it. That's a big problem.

"The problem with people coming from outside the UK in order to sponge off our health service - that may be a problem and we should certainly deal with abuse - but the figures tell us that they impose rather small costs on the health service and certainly, compared to the scale of the problem, it is minuscule," he said.

Tory MP Stewart Jackson said there was "no demonstrable data" to support the analysis that EU arrivals were net contributors and claimed it overlooked other effects of the "huge scale and speed" of immigration into cities like Peterborough, which he represents in the Commons.

"He skewed his analysis to older people, saying... that's the big issue, but it isn't: we've got to look at housing; we've got to look at schooling; we've got to look at health; we've got to look at crime. Those are big issues - it's the pinch points in different parts of the country."

He told the programme: "In my own city, 34,500 National Insurance numbers issued in nine years to 2012 in a population of 150,000 - it's the huge scale and speed. 41% of primary pupils in my city do not have English as a first language."

Press Association

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