The Government’s plans to cut the child benefit paid to some EU migrants working in Britain will be vetoed by other member states, Brussels has warned.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg agree that people from other EU countries whose families remain in their home country while they work in the UK should not be able to draw British levels of child benefit. The payments, of £20.30 a week for the first child and £13.40 for each additional one, are much more generous than those in eastern European countries such as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. In 2012, about 24,000 EU migrants claimed child benefit in Britain, even though their children did not live in the country.
Any one of these countries could veto the Government’s attempt to pay “local” rather than UK child benefit rates to such workers in Britain, because a change in the rules would need the backing of all 28 EU member states.
Laszlo Andor, the EU social affairs commissioner, told The Independent: “To ensure the free movement of workers within the EU, an essential element of the single market, it is crucial to ensure that EU countries do not discriminate against workers from other EU countries.”
He added: “Workers from another EU country, paying taxes and social security contributions in the host country, must receive the same benefits as workers from the host country. For example, they are entitled to receive child benefits irrespective of whether their children are actually resident in the same country. Currently this is the case in all member states.”
Mr Laszlo warned: “Any change to these rules would require an amendment to the treaty that would have to be ratified by the parliaments of all 28 EU countries”.
He insisted that countries such as France and Denmark had more generous welfare systems than the UK, warning that the “rhetoric” in the debate among British politicians risked them “losing friends” in Europe and giving their country a “bad image”.
The Commission argues that there is no evidence of “benefit tourism” and that migrants contribute more in taxes than they take out in welfare.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said Britain was winning allies inside the EU for reforms to tackle “benefit tourism”. He suggested that his personal view was to delay payments to EU migrants until they had been in the UK for up to two years, rather than the three-month maximum allowed under EU law.
Mr Clegg said yesterday it was “eminently sensible” to look at restricting such benefits, but told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show the Conservatives were “flirting” with EU exit, which would be “economic suicide”. He added that the Tories and UK Independence Party were locked in a “race to the bottom” in a “deathly embrace” as they competed with each other.
The Deputy Prime Minister dismissed a proposal by Mr Duncan Smith to limit child benefit to two children per family for all 7.5m claimants, including UK citizens. Mr Clegg said: “I am not in favour of a sort of Chinese-style family policy.”
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, rejected a call by 95 Tory MPs for Parliament to be given a veto on every aspect of EU law. He told Sky News: “If national parliaments all around the EU were regularly and unilaterally able to choose which bits of EU law they would apply and which bits they would not, then the European single market would not work, and even a Swiss-style free trade arrangement with the EU would not work.”