Welfare is already tight for immigrants in the UK. Photo: Flickr/Paul
Show Hide image

Cameron welcomes EU court "benefit tourism" ruling, but what exactly are migrants entitled to here?

The European Court of Justice allows EU states to restrict benefits to out-of-work EU migrants, but welfare is already tight for all immigrants here.

The European Court of Justice has ruled this week that EU member states will have the power to block certain benefits for migrants who are not jobseeking. The idea is for EU countries to be given the ability to deny unemployment hand-outs to those EU citizens who can be deemed "economically inactive".

It has been called a crackdown on "benefit tourism", a common concern about immigration in Britain, in spite of the fact that EU migrants travel here overwhelmingly for work and study reasons, and are in the great majority of cases successful in finding employment.

David Cameron, under great pressure to reduce our net migration level, has welcomed this ruling, calling it "simple common sense". And the website PoliticsHome is reporting that senior MEPs have told the Prime Minister that there is now no need to pursue major changes to EU free movement principles, which were to be central to his renegotiation of Britain's EU membership status.

However, defying the perception of Britain being particularly generous to its non-UK born residents, the welfare situation here is already very tight for all immigrants.

The government has recently introduced harsher rules for what EU migrants can receive. These include jobseekers from the European Economic Area (EEA) – predominantly migrants from EU states – having to wait three months before they can claim for Jobseekers’ Allowance. This is the same for accessing child benefit and child tax credits.

To stay longer than three months, they have to be in work, actively seeking work, or have a genuine chance of being hired. Either that, or they have to prove that they have the resources to remain without being a burden on public services.

EU migrants cannot automatically claim benefits after three months here. They have to pass a “habitual residence test” under EU law. This covers the individual’s status regarding their duration of stay, activity, income if they are a student, family status, and housing situation. Even if they pass this, they can then only claim Jobseekers’ Allowance for six months – after that, only those with a job offer or proof they are likely to find work are allowed to continue claiming.

On top of the tests required under EU law, the UK applies an additional test: the “Right to reside”. This limits certain benefits. The European Commission sees this as an unfair extra hurdle and has referred the UK to the EU’s Court of Justice on the matter.

However, it is a tougher situation for migrants from non-EU countries, who – to use the official language – do not have recourse to public funds until they have been a UK resident for five years. This means benefits alone are unlikely to be a realistic incentive for those travelling to the UK from outside the EU. Most are allowed to enter the UK for a limited period on condition that they don’t receive benefits. However, they are eligible for homelessness assistance when in accordance with government immigration and asylum policy.

But even those immigrants who arrive seeking asylum are not given an easy ride by the UK government. According to the DWP, asylum seekers are subject to immigration control and are excluded from claiming benefits. However, they receive cash benefits from the Home Office (known as s.95 support), at £36 per week. This hand-out was famously derided by the mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, at a recent Home Affairs select committee hearing, claiming such benefits made asylum seekers see Britain as “El Dorado”.

If they are granted leave to remain by the Home Office, they are then allowed to reside in the UK either temporarily or permanently, and hence entitled to work and claim in benefits.

If, upon arrival, they are unable to support themselves and their family, while their application is being considered, they may be eligible for financial support to buy essentials, and to live in suitable housing. If they are granted housing, they have no choice about where to live, and it won’t be in London or the Southeast. A private company, Serco, is contracted by the government to house asylum seekers. Being a profit-making organisation, it inevitably chooses the cheapest housing for them, which means that there are certain, usually deprived, areas in Britain where a disproportionate number of asylum seekers settle, causing tensions in some already troubled communities.

Since 2005, most people recognised as refugees (a person is officially a refugee when they have their claim for asylum accepted by the government) have been given permission to stay in the UK for only five years, and can have their case reviewed at any time.

So, given the tough situation in the UK for migrants in terms of welfare, and the European Court of Justice simultaneously cracking down, the Prime Minister may have little more to gain if he continues pushing against the principle of free movement that is at the EU's core.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.