David Cameron accused of 'scaremongering' as new crackdown on immigration unravels

Migrants must earn the right to NHS treatment and state benefits as PM vows dilute the 'pull factor' of Britain

A pledge by David Cameron to reduce the pressures on public services by migrants ran into immediate trouble as he was accused of "scaremongering"  and exaggerating the scale of the problem.

In a speech in Ipswich, the Prime Minister vowed to end Britain's reputation as  a "soft touch"  by reducing the rights of migrants to state benefits, NHS treatment and council housing. He announced that migrants  who fail to learn English could lose any right to jobless benefits  and added: "When it comes to illegal immigrants we are rolling up that red carpet and showing them the door."

But Downing Street struggled to provide figures to illustrate the extent of the problem and the headline-grabbing crackdown may turn out to be less severe than it first appeared. Mr Cameron said people from the European Economic Area (EEA) -the 26 EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein-would lose their right to jobseeker's allowance after six months unless they have a "genuine chance" of finding work. But they can already be stopped from claiming unless they have a "reasonable chance."

Latest government figures suggest that, of the 2.2m net migrants from the eight Eastern European nations that joined the EU in 2004, only 12,850 claimed jobseeker's allowance.

Number 10 said the NHS should recoup between £10m and £20m from EEA nationals' health treatment in the UK under reciprocal agreements. But Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, suggested the NHS was losing £200m. He said there was a "strong incentive" for hospitals not to declare a person "a foreigner" because they then had to chase payments.

Downing Street said the number of new social housing lettings going to migrants had risen by 40 per cent between 2007-08 and 2011-12 -but later admitted  such lettings still accounted for only 9 per cent of the total.

Sarah Mulley, associate director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, said: "Mr Cameron risks reinforcing a myth that you get straight off a plane and get a council house. Politicians should take care not to stoke fears that are not grounded in fact. The vast majority of immigrants are in the private rented sector."

Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, described Mr Cameron's proposals as a "sideshow" which would make little difference. The vast majority of migrants from EEA nations were young, healthy and mostly in work and made a net contribution to the economy through their taxes, he said.

Right-wing Tory MPs welcomed the Prime Minister's speech. But not all Tories were happy. A survey of Tory members by the Bright Blue  modernisers' group, Mr Cameron's natural allies, found a mixed reaction to the party's target to reduce net migration to less than 100,000 a year by 2015. While 37 per cent regard it as a "good policy," 29 per cent believe of is "damaging Britain's economic competitiveness" and  33 per cent think that all students should be exempt from the target -a move favoured by Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary but strongly opposed by Theresa May, the Home Secretary.

Ryan Shorthouse, director of Bright Blue, said:"The immigration cap, and sounding like you're toughening the rules for immigrants, is risky: politically, socially and economically. The Government may be raising expectations of reducing immigration to a level that cannot be delivered. And this direction of travel is not the solution to the social problems people are understandably worried about: they are actually more to with capacity in our public services, the performance of the labour market and the adequacy of our education system. It could just stoke more anger towards immigrants, solving nothing. This country urgently needs economic growth. So it is odd that the Government wants to reduce the number of productive workers and consumers of goods entering our economy".

Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: "This rhetoric may curtail rights to benefits on a minor scale, but relatively few migrants compared with 'indigenous' people actually claim benefit anyway. The real effect of this speech will be to further increase the intolerance and the hostile reception that immigrants are facing from some sections of society."

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, accused Mr Cameron of "scaremongering" and making "a desperate appeal to the worst extremes of his party"

Asked how many people his measures would stop coming to Britain, Mr Cameron declined to give a figure but promised "further progress" towards his target.

His other proposals include:

* EEA nationals, including Romanians and Bulgarians, will lose Jobseeker's Allowance and other benefits after six months unless they have a "genuine chance" of finding work and can show they have been trying to do so

* A tougher "habitual residence test" before migrants receive income-related benefits

* Local authorities to bring in a "local residency test" for council housing, so migrants have to live in an area for two-to-five years to join a waiting list

* Closing a loophole which allows people who have overstayed their visa to claim some benefits based on their national insurance contributions

* A crackdown on illegal immigrants, with penalties for hiring them doubled to £20,000 per worker and landlords fined for renting to them.

Although the three main parties deny launching an "arms race" on immigration, they have all now toughened their stance since the 2010 election – partly in response to the anti-EU UK Independence Party, which has stoked fears about an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians. Ministers insist Mr Cameron's measures were being drawn up before the recent controversy. However, it is no coincidence that the curb on jobless benefits will take effect early next year.

Further measures may follow on the admission of migrants' children to state schools. Mark Harper, the Immigration Minister, told Sky News: "We want to make sure our rules are among the toughest in the world."

However, the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee warned that tens of thousands of asylum-seekers who UKBA has given up trying to trace may still be living in Britain. It said the backlog of cases now stands at more than 312,000, the population of Iceland. "No sooner is one backlog closed, than four more are discovered," said Keith Vaz, the committee's Labour chairman. "At this rate it will take 24 years to clear the backlog."

The MPs accused UKBA bosses of misleading them about the backlogs for six years as they tried to "sweep its mistakes under the carpet". They were "astounded" that Lin Homer, UKBA's former head, was made permanent secretary of HM Revenue & Customs and had little confidence in her ability to run a government department. They said it was "appalling" that she was trying to "evade responsibility for her failings" at UKBA.

Last night Ms Homer rejected the strong criticism as "both untrue and unfair." She accused the committee of blaming her for problems at UKBA which occurred long after she left.

Party politics: What they would do

Conservatives Will restrict access of foreign nationals to benefits, NHS treatment and social housing; tougher action on illegal immigrants, including doubling penalties for employing them.

Labour Admits mistakes by previous government; would restrict low-skilled migration; would probably keep Tories' cap on visas for skilled migrants.

Liberal Democrats Propose "security bond" of at least £1,000 for visa applications from "high risk" countries.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
John Terry puts Chelsea ahead
football
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David performs in his play ‘Fish in the Dark'
theatreFish in the Dark has already generated a record $14.5m in advance ticket sales
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tvReview: Too often The Casual Vacancy resembled a jumble of deleted scenes from Hot Fuzz
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
news
Arts and Entertainment
Jemima West in Channel 4's Indian Summers (Joss Barratt/Channel 4)
tvReview: More questions and plot twists keep viewers guessing
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003