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Media claims that 600 000 unemployed EU migrants live in the UK are “a gross and irresponsible misrepresentation”

October 14th, 2013

The Sunday Telegraph reported on 13 October that a European Commission report published today would say that “600,000 unemployed European Union migrants are living in Britain at a cost of £1.5 billion to the NHS alone”.

This – as a Commission spokesperson has said to a press conference in Brussels – is “a gross and totally irresponsible misrepresentation of the facts”.

What the report really says, among other things, is the following.

The 600 000 figure refers to non-active migrants, a category which includes as well as job seekers, older schoolchildren, students, retired people, people taking time out of the labour market to bring up children and other direct family members.

As a comparison, 43 % of the UK population aged between 15 and 64 – so at a conservative estimate 12 million people – is classified as non-active. Clearly no –one would seriously claim that there were 12 million unemployed people in the UK.

The Sunday Telegraph’s claim that there are 600 000 unemployed EU migrants is equally absurd.

In fact, according to Department of Work and Pensions estimates, referred to on page 174 of the report, of 1.44 million people claiming Job Seekers Allowance in 2011, 8.5% of these were non-UK nationals, of which fewer than 38,000 claimants were from EU countries (approximately 2.6%).

Updated figures published in August 2013 – after the report was finished – show a higher figure of 60 100 claimants from EU countries. But this remains only 2.9 % of overall claimants.

Around twice as many non-EU nationals are claiming JSA in 2013 as non-British EU nationals. And the claimant rate for EU nationals of working age is around 3%, compared to about 4.5% for the native population.

The proportion of EU migrants in the non-active category is far lower – 30% – than the 43% in the general UK population (P19 of the report, see link above).

84% of non-active EU migrants in UK are relatives of an economically active EU citizen (figure 3.5, page 24). 64% of non-active EU migrants in UK have previously worked in the UK (p25-26)

The share of non-active EU migrants from the total population in the UK was 1.2% in 2011 and stayed the same in 2012.
The report estimates also that the proportion of the NHS budget spent on non-active EU migrants is between 0.7% and 1.1%.
It should be read against the background of other recent studies that consistently show that workers from other EU Member States taken as a whole make a major net contribution to the public finances of the UK.

In other words, migrant workers from other Member States – not only in UK but EU-wide – pay more in taxes and social security than they receive in benefits and services – including health services – because they tend to be younger and more economically-active than host countries’ own workforce.

These studies include: the OECD’s International Migration Outlook 2013, the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration study on Assessing the Fiscal Costs and Benefits of A8 Migration to the UK and the recent study by the Centre for European Reform, which concluded that: “Contrary to popular opinion, EU immigrants are far less likely to take up benefits than the British population. ‘Benefit tourism’ is a canard: the great majority of EU immigrants come to Britain to work.”

Other media stopped short of the blatant misrepresentation seen in the Sunday Telegraph, but reports in for example the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Express – which saw fit to run the piece alongside pictures of a Jobcentre and of unidentified people apparently in a makeshift shelter under a bridge – were notable for the repetition of previous inaccuracies and as much for what they did not say as what they did.

For example, several reports included claims that it was necessary to clamp down on EU migrants benefit rights to stop “benefit tourism”.

But none mentioned that – under EU law and as explained in this previous blog – those coming to UK to look for a job already cannot claim benefits immediately. Only those “habitually resident” – which usually means having worked in the UK or being a direct family member of someone having so worked – can do so.

The Mail also confused two eligibility tests. The Habitual Residence Test is a test agreed by all EU Member States and applied by all. It aims precisely to prevent benefit tourism and all the evidence in the report is that it largely succeeds in doing so.

The second test applied in the UK is an additional UK test called the Right to Reside test, which refuses benefits to some who have worked a considerable time in UK. That is why the Commission has referred the UK to the European Court of Justice – over this specific and discriminatory test, not for having tough procedures to deter benefit tourism. Far from trying to prevent the UK from applying tough procedures, EU law is designed to make sure such procedures are applied.

Finally, it is worth noting that the UK government estimates that there at least 1.4 million UK citizens resident elsewhere in the EU. While there are no official figures as to how many of those are non-active, that number is highly likely to significantly exceed 600 000 given the high proportion of pensioners – and non-working partners – among such UK expats.

This entry was originally posted on 14th October 2013 and was last updated on 15th October 2013.

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Please note that all statements in all entries were correct on the date of publication given. However, older archived posts are not systematically updated in the light of later developments, for example changes to EU law.

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