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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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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