by Matthew Whittley
Looking at reports of today’s Queen’s speech, where the government is set to announce plans to restrict migrants’ access to benefits, social housing and the NHS, one could be forgiven for thinking that most migrants are living the life in five bedroom social homes, staffed with their own personal GP.
But the measures mooted will have no impact on levels of immigration, because people don’t come here to claim benefits, they come to work. Of the 850,000 migrants to have arrived from Eastern Europe since 2004, only 13,000 were claiming Jobseekers Allowance in Febuary 2011. Those same migrants are about 60% less likely than natives to claim benefits or live in social housing.
And even if they were “benefit tourists” migrating in search of an “attractive benefits system”, the UK wouldn’t have been high on their list of potential destinations. The UK spends less on benefits than many other European nations including Germany, France and Italy. It would appear that we are not a “soft touch” after all.
Already this morning we’ve heard from Jeremy Hunt touring the broadcast studios about migrants “clogging up” the NHS and claims from government ministers that migrants “expect something for nothing”. This choice of language paints the picture of immigrants as a burden on resources, when in fact they are net contributors to the public finances; we would be worse off without them.
In the four years from 2004, Eastern Europeans contributed over 35% more in taxes than they received in benefits. This language also fosters a climate of suspicion and division that can easily turn to discrimination and xenophobia. We only have to look at Greece, where violent attacks against immigrants have become commonplace, to see where this can lead.