Several newspapers have this week reported the sharp rise in applications for state benefits from Polish and other eastern European migrants, who are entitled to the full range of benefits once they have worked here for 12 months.
The Sun called it the doubling of the “Pole Dole Queue”, whilst the Mail gave an example of a Polish worker who plans to sit out the recession because benefits here are three times higher than in Poland.
The Mail even published a benefits comparison table to illustrate its point that some UK benefits are up to six times higher than those in Poland.
Employment agencies and advice services aimed at Poles have reported a surge in enquiries in recent months from those anxious to claim their full entitlements from the welfare state.
There were 13,600 benefits claims from A8 citizens last year, up from just 6,287 in 2006. More than half were made by Poles, who represent the majority of eastern European migrants, followed by Lithuanians on 13 per cent and Czechs on 11 per cent.
The figures are likely to be a blow for Labour ministers, who faced fierce criticism over their decision to allow unfettered access to Britain’s labour market when the EU expanded eastwards-five years ago. At the time, other states such as France and Germany chose to keep migrant workers out.
Any EU citizen who works here for 12 months can claim the full range of state benefits, including child and housing benefit, and jobseeker’s allowance.
However, in 2011 even that 12-month requirement will be swept away as the seven-year ‘ transition period’ following EU expansion ends.
Jan Mokrzycki, of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, said:
‘We think lots of single people who came here may leave but the families will stay for as long as possible. Once they are set up they are qualified for benefits and support, and as EU citizens they will receive it.’
Lower benefits payments in Poland means there is ‘no reason’ for them to return home, he added. Child benefit for a first child in the UK is £20 per week – compared with £3 in Poland.
Ania Heasley, who runs an employment agency and advice service for eastern Europeans in London, said Polish workers were becoming ‘very well-versed’ in the UK benefits system.
‘People are now coming to me for advice on whether they are eligible to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, which was unheard of six months ago,’ she added.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the MigrationWatch think-tank, said:
‘It is quite possible eastern Europeans will decide to sit out the recession in Britain – on British benefits – rather than in their own countries on a much lower standard of living.
‘Even more important is that the Government should renegotiate this whole arrangement before our borders become completely open to the new EU states in two years time, and that the existing restrictions on benefits for their citizens are lifted.’
A Home Office spokesman said:
‘The Government is doing everything it can to ensure migration is controlled and is working for the British labour market and the country as a whole.’
There are over half a million registered Eastern European migrants in the UK. The vast majority are hardworking people who have no intention of claiming from the state. However, there is no doubt that these tabloid headlines will put more pressure on the Government to place further restrictions on immigration from outside the European Union.
Polish and other EU immigrants should not be confused with Non EU Work Permit and Student Visa holders who are not entitled to benefits and have “No recourse to Public Funds” stamped on their passports.
The Government recently decided to extend the Worker Registration Scheme for A8 migrants.
Romanian and Bulgarian migrants are subject to separate restrictions.