Blunkett exposes feared invasion of foreign benefit scroungers as 'myth'

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Fears that Britain would be "swamped" by benefit scroungers from poor Eastern European countries have proved to be "groundless myths", David Blunkett claimed last night.

Fears that Britain would be "swamped" by benefit scroungers from poor Eastern European countries have proved to be "groundless myths", David Blunkett claimed last night.

The Home Secretary published a snapshot of immigration figures for May and June, showing a total of 24,000 ­ including 14,400 who were already in this country illegally ­ had signed a register for work since the accession of 10 EU countries.

Home Office data also said only 8,000 people from the eight former Communist states arrived in the UK and signed on to a workers' register during May and June.

Mr Blunkett, who said he kept a file of media cuttings in his desk drawer at the Home Office, claimed the figures proved the worst fears were unfounded. Among the myths was a claim that migrants were "flocking in by boat and plane" on 1 May, when Britain opened its borders to the 10 new EU accession countries, he said. In fact, the official figures showed that around 9,000 migrants arrived after 1 May and joined the workers' registration scheme. Of the applications approved, nearly six out of 10 (59%) were from Poland, 17% were Lithuanian and 8% were Slovakian.

It was also claimed the migrants were bringing family dependents who would be able to claim benefits from Britain's "soft-touch" welfare state. There were reports of entire villages emptying to come to this country. In fact, just six people out of 240 claims were getting income support and jobseeker's allowance, and 94 per cent of the arrivals were single and had no dependents. The vast majority ­ 83 per cent ­ were aged between 18 and 34.

The Home Office claimed registered workers were contributing more than £4m a week to the UK economy and paying more than £500,000 a week in tax. "Rather than being a drain upon public services, they are contributing to them; 46 nurses and 23 teachers have registered during May and June," said an official. "They are not taking houses from UK residents. Only two local authority houses have been let to accession nationals and those people have been in the UK for some time."

Mr Blunkett said: "Today's figures show that most media speculation about the numbers of new arrivals was groundless." The row over the immigration figures showed no sign of abating, however. David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said National Audit Office figures also published yesterday showed a 22 per cent increase in visitor numbers to the UK from all countries in the three months to May. He said the Government did not know how many illegal immigrants were entering Britain.

"Many could be visitors and tourists, but how many are here who didn't sign up? How many have been granted visas from bogus colleges and how many are working illegally?" he said. Mr Davis called for all non-EU visitors to be required to fill in embarkation forms before entry to the UK. "The truth is that levels of net migration to the UK have more than tripled since Labour took office in 1997. Labour still has an immigration system out of control," he said.

However, the Home Secretary said there had been a fall of 25 per cent in people joining the workers' registration scheme recently. He said this suggested that the numbers had "peaked". Mr Blunkett added: "By contributing to our economy and paying into the system these accession state workers are supporting our public services, not being a drain upon them." One of his officials said: "It shows that people are going back. They did not find this the land of milk and honey it was portrayed as."

Officials said it showed the Government's late decision to tighten the rules for benefits, after the public outcry earlier this year, had also had an effect.

Mr Blunkett will be given the support of a cross-party Commons select committee report today saying that four myths about global migration should be exposed as wrong. However, the report by the international development committee, chaired by the former Tory minister Tony Baldry, castigates the Department of Health for failing to keep a record of how many doctors and nurses the NHS is currently recruiting from developing countries. The MPs say that this is a "gaping hole" and the NHS should start training nurses in developing countries for temporary employment in this country.

Britain does not feature in the 10 countries with the highest migrant totals. Countries with the highest numbers of migrants are: United States (35m), Russia (13.3m), Germany (7.3m), Ukraine (6.9m) and France and India (both 6.3m).

Countries with the highest percentage of migrant populations are the United Arab Emirates (73.8 per cent) Kuwait (57.9 per cent) Jordan (39.6 per cent) and Israel (37.4 per cent).

Migration Myths

"MYTH 1: Migration and migrants are problems to be dealt with.

Wrong. Migrants are not problems. They are people trying to improve their lives and must be treated accordingly.

MYTH 2: There is a 'tidal wave' of migrants about to crash on our shores.

Wrong. Migration remains the exception rather than the rule.

MYTH 3: Migration is primarily about people moving from developing countries to developed countries.

Wrong. Most migration takes place within and between developing countries.

MYTH 4: It is the poorest, most desperate people, who migrate.

Wrong. The poorest people often lack the resources to migrate.

MYTH 5: Migration harms developing countries by causing a brain drain.

Not necessarily. Migration can lead to a brain drain but it depends upon the nature of migration. The return of migrations with new skills can offset the loss and may lead to a brain gain."

Britain does not feature in the 10 countries with the highest migrant totals. Countries with the highest numbers of migrants are: United States (35m), Russia (13.3m), Germany (7.3m), Ukraine (6.9m) and France and India (both 6.3m).

THE BITTER REALITY

When Paulina Skrzypinske told her family and friends she was heading to Britain, no one doubted her new life would be a vast improvement on the hardships of Poland.

But yesterday, a month after she arrived, the 19-year-old boarded a bus back to Lodz, penniless and dismayed by how far reality was from expectation. With shifts of 10 hours a day as a strawberry-picker on a farm in Hertfordshire for a daily wage of £20, survival became impossible after rain stopped work.

Her story is typical. More than half of the 15,000 Poles who entered the UK since Poland joined the EU on 1 May, have gone back, bitterly disappointed.

Ms Skrzpinske secured her job on the farm weeks before buying her ticket to London, and her parents had delved into their savings to pay for her accommodation.

"What has happened is horrible," she said. "I had hoped for a new life, and I had really intended to pay my parents back the money. I spent a week looking for work but there was nothing. I brought more than £300 which lasted me two weeks. In Poland, it would have lasted a couple of months."

Martin Urbanczyk, 20, of Radom, and Radek Dodrolecki, 20, of Elblag, students at the University of Economics in Posnan, came to London last week to find summer jobs

"We worked at a car wash for two days for £1.50 an hour which is almost the same as we would be paid in Poland," Mr Dodrolecki said. "Our trip was a mixture of a holiday and looking for work but I feel disappointed I'm going back so soon."

Jan Mokryzycki, president of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, said those who saw Britain as an eldorado tended to be young, with little knowledge of customs or the language. They were the most vulnerable to criminal gangs and prostitution.

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