David Cameron wants to toughen welfare rules for EU migrants. Photo: Getty
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What are EU migrants entitled to in terms of benefits and housing, and when?

David Cameron wants to delay benefits to EU migrants for four years, Labour for two years. What are they currently entitled to, when, and how much do they claim?

Upon arriving in this country, what can EU migrants receive in terms of benefits, and when?

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. 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 students, 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.

 

How many of them are housed by the state?

There are similar levels of UK nationals and foreign-born individuals living in social housing: 17 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively. It is not the case that immigrants receive preferential treatment on council housing lists.

The immigrant population is almost three times as likely to be in the private rental sector than their UK-born neighbours: 38 per cent compared to 14 per cent.

From April this year, new EEA migrant jobseekers have no longer been allowed housing benefit.

The housing minister Brandon Lewis commented:

Foreign nationals coming to the UK should be under no illusion that they will get free housing if they fall on hard times. They will find no stepping stones to a social home, because we’ve changed the rules so local people have priority.

 

Can they bring family over?

Yes, providing their family members are EU citizens. They will be subject to the same scrutiny as outlined above.

 

How many migrants are in employment?

The latest DWP figures from 2014 show that there are 1.73m EU nationals working in the UK, equal to 5.7 per cent of all people in work. There are 1.19m non-EU nationals working in the UK, which is 3.9 per cent.

The employment rate for non-UK born workers is 70 per cent, compared to the 73.2 per cent of UK born workers. The employment rate for EU nationals living in the UK is 79 per cent. This is according to the latest figures, from the April-June 2014 Labour Force Survey.

The UK is the only EU country to have a lower unemployment rate for migrants than nationals (7.5 per cent to 7.9 per cent respectively), suggesting a key reason for migration to the UK is to find work.

Since the early 2000s, the presence of foreign-born workers has grown fastest in relatively low-skilled jobs.

 

How many of them claim benefits?

Less than 5 per cent of EU migrants are claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance, while less than 10 per cent are claiming other DWP working-age benefits.

On top of this, the think tank Class found that of those who claim Jobseekers’ Allowance, 91.5 per cent are UK nationals. Additionally, among unemployed migrants, only 1 per cent claim unemployment benefits, compared to the 4 per cent of unemployed UK nationals who are claimants.

Rather than being “benefit tourists”, migrants to the UK make a net contribution, as they pay more in taxes than they take out in benefits. A UCL study this month found that the UK gains £20bn from European migrants. And a study by the OECD last year found that migrants make a net contribution of over £2000 per head.

 

Sources: Spokespeople at the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Department for Communities and Local Government; European Commission report, 2012 http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/publications/economic_paper/2012/pdf...4_en.pdf; the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford; the Migration Matters Trust; the Office of National Statistics; the Refugee Council; Turn2Us; the BBC; British Future; Class report Why immigration is good for all of us http://classonline.org.uk/docs/why_immigration_is_good_for_all_of_us.pdf; House of Commons Library: Asylum Statistics, 5 August 2014 file:///Users/anooshchakelian/Downloads/SN01403%20(1).pdf; Eurostat statistics; OECD International Migration Outlook 2013 http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/social-issues-migration-health/international-migration-outlook-2013_migr_outlook-2013-en#page1

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.