October 14, 2013 6:44 pm

Brussels disputes UK claims of ‘benefits tourism’

Brussels has strongly disputed British claims that EU migrants were taking advantage of Britain’s social welfare systems, or that overgenerous health service provision or benefits were acting as “pull factors”.

The European Commission released a report on Monday showing that in 2011, fewer than 38,000 out of 1.4m jobless benefit claims in the UK had been made by EU citizens – a figure of less than 3 per cent.

Brussels and London are in a legal dispute over allegations that Britain discriminates against other EU nationals’ right to access benefits such as child support and jobseeker’s allowance.

Jonathan Todd, a commission spokesman, said Britain had provided no evidence to support its claim that EU migrants were engaged in “benefit tourism”, adding: “The more EU migrants you have, the better off your welfare system is.”

“The vast majority of migrants go to the UK to work, and they actually contribute more to the welfare system than they take out, purely because they tend to be younger than the average population, and of working age,” he told the BBC’s Daily Politics.

Downing Street on Monday insisted that “pull factors” in the health and benefits systems were at work, and that the government’s immigration bill would help to tackle any abuse of those systems.

“We don’t think the current system is working, that is why we are looking at changes across the board,” said the official spokesman of David Cameron, the prime minister.

László Andor, the EU commissioner for employment and social affairs, insisted the majority of mobile European citizens moved to another member state for work, adding that the commission’s report put “into perspective the dimension of so-called benefit tourism which is neither widespread nor systematic”.

The dispute between Mr Cameron’s government and Brussels is linked to his wider struggle to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the rest of the EU ahead of a proposed in-out referendum in 2017.

John Springford, a research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, said the government’s “benefits tourism” claims were a canard. “Contrary to popular opinion, EU immigrants are far less likely to take up benefits than the British population . . . the great majority of EU immigrants come to Britain to work,” he said.

The commission also attacked some British media for distorting the findings of its report by suggesting that all 600,000 non-active EU migrants – which includes jobseekers as well as children, students, retired workers and people taking time out of the labour market to raise infants – were unemployed.

“That is a gross and totally irresponsible misrepresentation of the facts,” said an EU spokesman.

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