Cameron’s EU migrant rhetoric whiffs of xenophobic hot air

That’s a stronger title than that of my Civitas analysis, but the idea’s the same.As you (hopefully) know, my own thoughts on migrants (EU or otherwise) tend to change, but I really think it’s important for people either side of the debate to understand how meaningless today’s fireworks were;

Before we knew Cameron’s Romanian/Bulgarian restriction details, I predicted they‘d be more hot air than substance.  Analysis shows the Tory proposals are either already in law, unenforceable or inappropriate for the problems at hand. The only consequence to Cameron’s sabre-rattling is Brussels’ reaction: Commissioner László Andor warns that Britain will be branded ‘the Nasty Country’. This might damage Cameron’s renegotiation prospects, but in the short term suits him fine: who would migrate to the Nasty Country with its Hostile Environment?

In his Financial Times announcement, Cameron set out these non-proposals:

1. Migrants won’t get out-of-work benefits for the first three months

2. JSA payments will stop after six months unless the claimant has a “genuine” chance of employment

3. Migrants won’t be able to claim housing benefit immediately

4. Deportation of vagrants and beggars, with no return within 12 months

5. Beefed-up fines for employers not paying the minimum wage (£20,000 per employee)
God knows how hurriedly they were drafted. (1) The DWP doesn’t monitor EU migrant benefit claims within the first three months of arrival – they record non-Britons claiming within the first six months after completing registration. To claim out-of-work benefits, you need first to register, involving a glorious to-and-fro-ing of forms, which itself already requires you having a fixed address. When you’ve registered for a National Insurance Number, you then need an appointment with your local JobCentrePlus. Getting one takes weeks, and even then, your claims might not be approved. If you are approved for JSA, you’ll have to spend two weeks actively ‘seeking a job’ (and prove it) before you can collect the dole. Realistically, very few new arrivals currently get hand-outs within 90 days.

Of the other proposals, (2)(3) and (4) are largely in law already. (2) The Citizens’ Advice Bureau website states: ‘You can only have jobseeker status for six months…extended if you’ve a genuine chance of finding work’. Indeed, Iain Duncan Smith was using the same rhetoric months ago (re: native benefits-claimants needing ‘genuine’ effort to find work). Similarly, (3) the CAB website explains social housing claimants must conform to ‘Habitual Residence’ tests under EU law, which have time restrictions. Meanwhile (4) beggars have been deportable since 2006: they aren’t exercising EU residence rights. Given that UKBA doesn’t count migrants out and barely counts them in, the ‘no return’ element is utterly meaningless.

This brings us to the final proposal, fines for illegal wages rising from £5,000 to £20,000. This seems sensible: British workers’ main opposition to migration is that low-skilled Eastern Europeans are depressing wages and fuelling unemployment. However, minimum-wage work has this effect too, and Cameron isn’t limiting that. Neither is he really limiting illegal-wage work, since the current problem is in wage monitoring and law enforcement, not the deterrent’s size.

So today’s announcements are all bark and no bite. Cameron will be hoping the Bulgarian Ambassador’s prediction was right all along, and only 8,000 compatriots are coming after all.

@MidWalesMike did a very good analysis on the day. To their credit, the BBC did notice that some of these proposals lacked imagination, but didn’t look into their origin fully.

Also NB, many migrants who successfully claim JSA or other contributory benefits will have paid National Insurance (or its equivalent) in their home countries. For the first six months of their claims here, the Treasury is able to bill their country of origin for the welfare payments. So they aren’t costing the taxpayer anything.

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