Is "benefit tourism" an economic reality or a political term designed to respond to the misperception that foreigners come to the UK to leech off the welfare state? The EU Commission has just published a report (Impact of mobile EU citizens on national social security systems) investigating that issue and sides decidedly with the latter conclusion. It found that "mobile EU citizens are less likely to receive disability and unemployment benefits in most countries studied." In the UK, EU migrants account for just 4% of Jobseeker's Allowance claimants while representing more than 5% of those in employment.
The report also contradicts the claim, published in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph (and based on the study's findings) that "600,000 unemployed migrants are living in Britain...at a cost of £1.5 billion to the NHS alone". The 600,000 figure turns out not to refer to those who are unemployed but to those who are economically inactive, including pensioners, students and the disabled. Of this total, those out of work represent just 28%. In addition, the figures published in the study show that EU migrants are less likely than their UK counterparts to be economically inactive or unemployed. Thirty per cent of migrants are "non-active" compared to 43% of British citizens, while 7.5% are out of work, compared to 7.9% of UK nationals (the unemployment rate at the time the study was conducted).
Here's the statement from László Andor, the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion:
The study makes clear that the majority of mobile EU citizens move to another Member State to work and puts into perspective the dimension of the so called benefit tourism which is neither widespread nor systematic. The Commission remains committed to ensuring that EU citizens that would like to work in another EU country can do so without facing discrimination or obstacles.
In response, Downing Street has said that there is "widespread and understandable" concern about "benefit tourism", suggesting that, once again, rather than giving voters the facts, it will reinforce their fears.