The Office for Budget Responsibility came out yesterday and stated that David Cameron’s attempted changes to the rules regarding benefits EU migrants can claim in what timeframe are “unlikely to have a huge impact” on the numbers of EU migrants coming to the UK. Fair enough; this only makes sense. This is because most EU migrants don’t come to the UK seeking benefits in the first place, but rather better job opportunities and higher rates of pay. Which is what pro-Europeans have said all along, while we’ve been told again and again that it’s our supposedly generous and lax benefit system that’s behind migration from the continent to the UK by various Eurosceptics.
What I found bizarre was the assumption by the OBR response that curbing immigration was the whole point of the exercise. Which to be fair, I then found myself questioning what Cameron’s idea behind the four year cap on in-work benefits was in the first place. Is it to cut immigration? Really? Let’s explore this idea.
The only EU migrants who I can see being seriously affected by the four year benefit cap (and thus be less likely to come to the UK) are in very low wage sectors – fruit pickers, as an example. Anyone who comes here from the continent to start a business, or is in a trade such as plumbing, or lives in London to work in an office will be very unlikely to be affected given they wouldn’t qualify for the benefits regardless. So what could be the result of the four year benefit cap is this: there is a crisis in certain agricultural sectors where it becomes no longer worth the while of eastern Europeans to come to the UK to do the work – while the stuff that supposedly annoys the working classes, i.e. cheaper tradespeople, will stay as is. Because, to re-iterate, it isn’t benefits that cause migration to the UK, but the fact that we have a more open and liberal economy.
But let’s rewind: I’ve always thought that the idea of the four year benefits cap was to assure the public that in-work benefits are for UK citizens only, thus alleviating people’s concerns that EU migrants are “living off” taxpayer funds. Cameron, if he gets the four year deal, will have achieved this. So is the Eurosceptic Tory viewpoint that migrants shouldn’t be living off the UK taxpayer (which is an arguable but reasonable enough point) or that we should have migration figures into the UK which would result in their own party’s economic targets not being met?