Generous UK Welfare System a Magnet for EU Workers

December 09, 2012

The UK benefits system is so generous and easy to access that it is likely to prove a “magnet” to people from poorer EU countries as the economic turmoil in the region intensifies, says a new report out today.

With all movement restrictions for economic migrants from Romania and Bulgaria due to be lifted at the end of next year there is a real possibility that many thousands will come to the UK.

The report, from think-tank Migration Watch UK, has compared in detail the benefits available in the UK with those in the EU14. Crucially it also looked at how easy or difficult it is to access them.

The research shows that we have the fourth most generous system of any country in the EU in our provision of a range of benefits to low income workers. Access to unemployment benefit is also much easier and in some cases can be paid without the applicant having to make any prior contribution.

Only Luxembourg, Ireland and Denmark, with populations of 500,000, 4.5 and 5.5 million respectively, have more generous benefits than the UK but access to them is much more tightly regulated than here.

The UK is more generous than Germany and much more generous than France, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy in topping up low wages. Access to unemployment benefit is also much easier in the UK with no set time limits.

The paper examined in detail two scenarios; the first is a family made up of a worker, a spouse and two children where one adult is in work earning 50 percent of the average wage and the other adult is not working and not drawing unemployment benefits. The second scenario is a similar family where the sole earner is now unemployed.

‘We found that the UK is far more generous than most other EU countries, topping-up low wages by just over 80% through in-work and housing benefits. This makes employment in the UK a very attractive option for migrants from poorer EU member states, especially after adjusting for differences in the cost of living,’ said Sir Andrew Green, the Chairman of Migration Watch UK.

‘You can hardly blame people for taking advantage of such an incredibly open benefit system. However, the question is whether it is fair to UK tax payers to allow such generous access by people who have not paid into the system. Other EU countries police access to benefits much more effectively. It is time that the British government did the same,’ he said.

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