UK Work and Pensions Secretary Cracks Down on Public Benefits Abuse
The UK is tightening up its already rigorous work benefits test, requiring immigrants to detail what they have done to find work outside of the UK and whether they have been hurt by their own inability to speak English. The move is sparking the ire of pro-immigrant groups.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith (pictured) announced Friday in a press release that the department, to minimize the potential of systematic abuse, would launch an "improved" benefit test for immigrants. The new test, which will boast a varying question bank of more than 100 questions, is designed to prevent those who have no intention of settling in the UK from acquiring benefits.
The government asserts that it is a step in the direction of "fix[ing] the immigration and welfare system so Britain’s economy delivers for people who work hard and play by the rules." Immigrants will have to prove that they are in the UK legally and "have sufficient ties to this country to show they are 'habitually resident.'" Among the questions that can prove that intention to remain is whether they speak sufficient English to work in the UK.
Smith himself, who has long been a thorn in the side of much of the British Left, told The Telegraph that a major concern of the government is preventing "benefit tourism," whereby people travel to the UK, apply for and receive benefits, and live outside the country. He added that he did not want "the attractiveness of our benefit system" to have a significant impact on why people come to the UK, but rather that they should "contribute" to the overall society.
The paper notes that these new measures arrive just in time for the lifting of a number of immigration restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians. Those two countries made a deal with the European Union that would ease travel and working restrictions between them and the rest of the continent. The deal kicks in at the end of 2013.
The UK is not alone in easing these restrictions; Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, Spain, and the Netherlands also agreed to the new arrangement. The British, however, have expressed more vocally their concern about being flooded with immigrants from those countries, leading to Romanian and Bulgarian ads in their home countries bashing the UK for "bad weather and worse food."
The UK has had a particularly difficult time integrating its immigrant population into British culture. Hundreds of British citizens have been found fighting alongside radical Islamist rebels in Syria, causing concerns in the country that they may return to the UK even more radicalized. Conservative leadership in London had promised a focus on reforming and improving the immigration system earlier this year, and has since attempted implementing programs to help illegal immigrants leave the country and reduce incentives for violating immigration laws.
These measures have led to some pushback from the European Union, with one official even threatening that the UK risked being seen as a "nasty country." It has, however, received support from Germany, which has considered adopting similar measures.