Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has admitted that the rules on open door immigration from Europe need changing as his party scored another humiliating result in the latest by-election. In an article in the Financial Times, the Deputy Prime Minister demonstrates how attitudes towards immigration have moved on, following the second victory in a row for Nigel Farage’s UKIP.
Ahead of a much hyped speech on immigration by Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr Clegg has pre-empted him by outlining changes which he believes would end the concerns many in this country have over access to social security.
The former Euro MP says that the coalition is tightening the rules so that EU jobseekers “cannot claim out-of-work benefits from day one.” His proposals are based on the ‘free movement of labour’ rather than the ‘free movement of people’ which has seen a wave of migrant labour to these shores since EU enlargement in 2004.
“They must wait three months, and support will depend on demonstrating a genuine prospect of employment” he wrote, highlighting the concern political parties have over the feeling of unfairness which many voters have towards the current system.
He adds that “before applying for social housing, migrants must first live in an area for at least two years.” Local Authorities currently decide the priority based on guidelines from central government and this can lead to newly arrived migrants jumping the queue if they are deemed ‘at risk’.
The Prime Minister faced an embarrassing retort from the German Chancellor earlier this month when she said that she will not countenance any dilution of the EU’s right to free movement of workers.
Mr Clegg hopes to perform a balancing act which would please both sides, saying that the UK ‘is not friendless’ but warning the Conservatives that if he insists on caps or quotas on the number of EU migrants, ‘we will find ourselves in the worst of all worlds.’
“Ukip will say it is not enough.” he warns. “Europe will say it is not possible. Once again the British people will be plunged into a cycle of wild overpromising and inevitable disappointment, their scepticism confirmed.”
And he attempted to back up his arguments against quantitative restrictions, smugly highlighting Sunday’s announcement by the Home Secretary that the government will not succeed in bringing net migration down to the tens of thousands.
But he said there were changes which could be made, pointing out that even the European Commission has agreed that “freedom of movement is about the right of circulation, not about an unrestricted right to claim benefits”.
“The Germans do not pay out-of-work benefits to new European jobseekers. The French, Italians and Dutch have tighter rules, too. In Germany housing benefit is reserved for those who are earning, as in Austria and Denmark. The Bundestag is pursuing a range of further restrictions” he wrote.
Mr Clegg has already supported ending the ability for migrants to claim child benefit for offspring living abroad, saying that ‘As a first step, we should pay the same rate as the country in which those children reside.’
And he also wants to stop migrants from claiming universal credit until they have paid into the system for a minimum of six months as well as restricting the access migrants have to in-work benefits such as tax credits, which costs the Treasury billions each year.
Figures from the Department of Work and Pensions showed that earlier this year, 65,000 EU migrants were claiming unemployment benefit in this country.