David Cameron with immigration officers in December 2013. Photo: Getty
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Most Romanians and Bulgarians already had full access to benefits before 2014

Oxford researchers have now found that, last year, 59.1 per cent of working migrants from the two countries were self-employed, which gave them the same access to tax credits and housing benefits as any other self-employed EU migrant in the UK.

New research reveals most Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK were unaffected by the “transitional controls” in place until the start of this year.

According to much of the media, these controls were the only thing holding back floods of migrants. Even now, nearly two months after Romanians and Bulgarians gained full access to the UK’s labour market, the controls are still in the news.

The Telegraph reports numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians in the UK reached a “record high” last year, even before controls were removed. The Mail meanwhile claims “one in ten new roles” created last year went to migrants from the two countries.

But what if it turns out most Romanian and Bulgarian migrants were already unaffected by the controls? That is the conclusion of research carried out by the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory which builds on an article previously published by The Conversation on the existence of benefits tourism.

When the two nations joined the EU in 2007, richer countries were worried about a possible influx of low skilled migrants. Temporary restrictions – “transitional controls” – were therefore put in place to limit Romanians and Bulgarians' access to certain jobs, primarily those in agriculture and food processing. Access to the benefits system was also limited.

However, these controls did not apply to self-employed workers. Oxford researchers have now found that, last year, 59.1 per cent of working migrants from the two countries were self-employed. That compares with just 13.9 per cent of UK nationals.

Self-employed status gave Romanian and Bulgarian migrants the same access to tax credits, housing benefits and so on as any other self-employed EU migrant in the UK, even while the transition controls were still in place. Unlike his or her fellow nationals with a single employer, a self-employed Romanian enjoyed the same status in the UK as a freelance worker from France or Italy.

But this doesn’t mean things were rosy, or that the “benefit tourism” stories were right all along. In fact, quite the opposite.

As the Migration Observatory report makes clear, the transition controls meant registration as self-employed was “less of a choice than a necessity” for Romanians and Bulgarians coming to work in the UK. Controls may have been easily evaded, but they seem to have simply pushed migrants into what the Romanian Embassy called last year a “grey area of the labour market”.

Liliana Harding, a lecturer in economics at the University of East Anglia, describes the creation of “a secondary labour market, where (self-employed) workers are deprived of various social and residence entitlements.” It may have also led to lower wages, as self-employed workers can avoid minimum wage rules.

This isn’t a great position to be in. “Migrants are easily exploitable”, points out Jon Fox of the University of Bristol, “but they work hard, and they pay in more than they take out.”

Carlos Vargas Silva, one of the author’s of the Migration Observatory’s analysis recognises public concern over what the end of transitional controls might bring. “But” he says, “these figures show that limits to welfare access included in the transitional controls did not affect the majority of Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK since 2007.”

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Want to beat child poverty? End the freeze on working-age benefits

Freezing working-age benefits at a time of rising prices is both economically and morally unsound. 

We serve in politics to change lives. Yet for too long, many people and parts of Britain have felt ignored. Our response to Brexit must respond to their concerns and match their aspirations. By doing so, we can unite the country and build a fairer Britain.

Our future success as a country depends on making the most of all our talents. So we should begin with a simple goal – that child poverty must not be a feature of our country’s future.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies projects that relative child poverty will see the biggest increase in a generation in this Parliament. That is why it is so troubling that poverty has almost disappeared from the political agenda under David Cameron, and now Theresa May.

The last Labour Government’s record reminds us what can be achieved. Labour delivered the biggest improvement of any EU nation in lifting one million children out of poverty, transforming so many lives. Child poverty should scar our conscience as much as it does our children’s futures. So we have a duty to this generation to make progress once again.

In my Barnsley constituency, we have led a campaign bringing together Labour party members, community groups, and the local Labour Council to take action. My constituency party recently published its second child poverty report, which included contributions from across our community on addressing this challenge.

Ideas ranged from new requirements on developments for affordable housing, to expanding childcare, and the great example set by retired teachers lending their expertise to tutor local students. When more than 200 children in my constituency fall behind in language skills before they even start school, that local effort must be supported at the national level.

In order to build a consensus around renewed action, I will be introducing a private member’s bill in Parliament. It will set a new child poverty target, with requirements to regularly measure progress and report against the impact of policy choices.

I hope to work on a cross-party basis to share expertise and build pressure for action. In response, I hope that the Government will make this a priority in order to meet the Prime Minister’s commitment to make Britain a country that works for everyone.

The Autumn Statement in two months’ time is an opportunity to signal a new approach. Planned changes to tax and benefits over the next four years will take more than one pound in every ten pounds from the pockets of the poorest families. That is divisive and short-sighted, particularly with prices at the tills expected to rise.

Therefore the Chancellor should make a clear commitment to those who have been left behind by ending the freeze on working-age benefits. That would not only be morally right, but also sound economics.

It is estimated that one pound in every five pounds of public spending is associated with poverty. As well as redirecting public spending, poverty worsens the key economic challenges we face. It lowers productivity and limits spending power, which undermine the strong economy we need for the future.

Yet the human cost of child poverty is the greatest of all. When a Sure Start children’s centre is lost, it closes a door on opportunity. That is penny wise but pound foolish and it must end now.

The smarter approach is to recognise that a child’s earliest years are critical to their future life chances. The weight of expert opinion in favour of early intervention is overwhelming. So that must be our priority, because it is a smart investment for the future and it will change lives today.

This is the cause of our times. To end child poverty so that no-one is locked out of the opportunity for a better future. To stand in the way of a Government that seeks to pass by on the other side. Then to be in position to replace the Tories at the next election.

By doing so, we can answer that demand for change from people across our country. And we can provide security, opportunity, and hope to those who need it most.

That is how we can begin to build a fairer Britain.
 
 

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central and a former Major in the Parachute Regiment.