Benefit Cuts In The UK: Foreign Residents Share The Pain:

During the six months since the General Election on 6th May, the Coalition Government has constantly attempted to re-assure the nation that “We are all in it together”. Such assertions, however, have provoked scepticism even among their staunchest supporters. The right-wing “Daily Mail” newspaper , for example, has pointed out that the 29 members of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Cabinet “have been drawn almost exclusively from the ranks of the financial elite”. The clear implication is that Ministers are simply unable to comprehend or empathize with the huge impact the spending cuts will have on the majority of the population. The plan announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is “to strip child benefit from 1.2 million better-off families to save £1 billion pa and limit housing benefit to a maximum of  £250 a week for a one-bedroom property and £400 per week for a four-bedroom home” (London Evening Standard /Daily Mail). Payments to claimants who have been on Jobseeker Allowance for over a year will be cut by 10% . Recipients aged from 25-35 will “no longer qualify for their own house or flat” but instead will have to rent a room or share accommodation . Osborne calculates that this will remove £1.8 billion from the annual welfare bill. He is also threatening to impose a £50 fine “for every wrongful benefit claim” (even if due to unintentional mistakes when filling out the forms). Anyone caught “cheating” three times will  “forfeit their right to benefits for up to three years”. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) emphasize that (in their view) “the notoriously complicated benefit system” costs far more than the estimated total value (£1.5 billion pa) of benefit fraud. They also evidently dislike the Government’s proposal to employ agencies and inspectors as “bounty hunters” to track down and expose alleged “ benefit cheats”. The National Audit Office furthermore, believes that “at least £40 billion of revenue is lost every year in uncollected taxes”, much of it from the wealthiest sectors of society.

Exactly who, then, is eligible for housing allocation, homelessness assistance and income-related ESA (Employment & Support Allowance)? The “Housing Rights” and “Shelter” websites have attempted to provide some clarification. The basic criteria is “the right to residence” – not a problem for British citizens but less straightforward for European Union (EU) nationals. Those from countries which were EU members prior to 2004 automatically acquire the right to live in the UK three months after their arrival – but if they haven’t been working during that period can’t apply to go onto their local council’s waiting list for social housing, claim social security benefits or get help if they are or become homeless. The same rules apply to their “close family members”, even if these are not EU citizens. The definition of “working” extends somewhat controversially to self-employment, following a recent Upper Tribunal judgement that “If the activity is genuine and effective (even if not full-time) then they have the right to reside and to the consequent benefit and housing rights”. “Accession State” nationals  (from the countries that joined the European Union in 2004) are currently required to sign on for the “Workers Registration Scheme” (WRS) and have to complete twelve months of continuous employment in order to qualify for benefits. This rule will lapse at the end of April 2011 (though for not for Romanians and Bulgarians), which is when these eight countries will have been EU members for seven years. From then on, their workers will have the same rights as other EU citizens.

In the interim (according to the “Guardian”), Home Secretary Theresa May wants to “End the right to permanent settlement for the more than 100,000 skilled workers and overseas students  (from outside the EU) who want to come to Britain each year – though David Cameron (under pressure from the business sector) has agreed that the 30,000 skilled migrants employed by multi-national companies operating here will be excluded from the proposed “immigration cap”. Those people who have been granted “indefinite leave to remain” in the UK become eligible for benefits provided they pass the “habitual residence test” – namely, whether they can provide evidence of a “firm intention” to stay in the country for the foreseeable future and have “durable ties” with the UK.. The “’ website offers advice on how to avoid a visit from the DWP (Department For Work & Pensions) Fraud Investigation Officers: Anyone receiving benefit should immediately report changes in their personal circumstances, such as getting married, moving house, getting a new job or a pay rise,  inheriting money, taking in a lodger, no longer being sick or ill, or (permanently) leaving the UK. If they don’t, and are discovered, they risk almost certain prosecution.

Indignant and often lurid reports about “benefit fraud” are now a regular feature of the ‘popular press’:  The family who contended they were too fat to work and lived off £22,000 pa in benefits; The couple who accrued £75,000 in 4 years for 16 invented children;  The woman who obtained £40,000 for ’incapacity’  while scuba-diving in Kenya; The asylum seekers who insisted on being accommodated in a £2,000 per week house in Kensington because they didn’t like the £900 per week home they’d been assigned in a ‘poor area’ of Kensal Green. The main hostility, however, is directed towards ‘benefit tourists’: from abroad: The “migrant workers from eastern Europe claiming £28 million in child benefit for children who do not live in the UK” (Daily Express); The Czech & Slovak fraudsters who “Milked £450,00” from “Benefit Britain” (Daily Telegraph). A headline in the “Daily Mail” on 28th September proclaimed that the “EU warns Britain it can’t stop thousands more migrants claiming welfare handouts”. In keeping with this mood, the Coalition Government has “unveiled plans to target criminal gangs abusing the benefits system”. None of this will be of any consolation to the thousands of people across Britain who genuinely need the present level of financial support they are receiving from the state and who will be in dire straits without it.







Filed under: Immigration & Visas, Politics | Posted on November 10th, 2010 by Colin D Gordon

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