Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Despite grand speeches, he has no plans to protect the interests of British workers

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If you saw the headlines this week you would think the Prime Minister had scored a huge victory. It seems that, at last, he has listened to voters and brought in the policies they have been asking for.

But as with so many of this Government’s attempts to swing the news its way, the headlines don’t tell anything like the full story.

During the European election campaign there were many issues I wanted to address that were directly connected to our open door immigration policy to the EU. I managed to take on a few: the huge increase in supply of unskilled labour driving down real wages, the effects on housing and other local services. But there was one point I failed in getting the right kind of debate on, and that was in-work benefits.

But thanks to David Cameron and his attempts to woo back Ukip voters, I don’t need to struggle to make that argument any more – because he has laid the groundwork for me. His claims that immigration curbs and benefit changes will “put Britain first” got Fleet Street into research mode.

All of a sudden, the papers which were his attack dogs during the spring – The Sun, the Daily Mail and even The Times, who delighted in running scandalous and generally untrue stories about Ukip and me in particular – started howling about the huge bill which comes from in-work benefits.

The sum is around £5bn, and would not be touched by Cameron’s latest pronouncements, because under EU law anyone from an EU country can claim in-work benefits, British or not British, recently arrived or long-term resident. That’s how the EU works.

Its desire for “a level playing field” - allowing free movement of capital, goods and people – does not take into account the huge differences in social security systems within the member states. Consequently, rather than the land being as smooth as a Provençal bowls lawn, the benefits topography shows massive gradients which lead to migratory flows from poorer countries to richer ones.

For Cameron’s changes to really address the cause of many British workers’ anger, he would have to change the benefits rules to protect their interests. And those aren’t headlines he is prepared to risk.

I do not believe that Brits want to be nasty when they call for a tightening of the rules on social security for economic migrants, rather that they believe in fair play and think that people should have paid into the system before they can take out of it.

We could put the benefits system onto a more contributory basis, and it would leave the majority of non-migrant workers unaffected. But it would, by its very nature, have a disproportionate effect on younger workers and women who take time out to have a family because they are the people who will have paid less National Insurance contributions.

This week’s announcement also highlighted the complete disconnect between the European Commission and the average British worker, with spokesman Jonathan Todd claiming that there was no evidence that EU migrants go to other countries to claim benefits. Again he has missed the point.

 

Yes, people move to work but what we are talking about here is the in-work benefits migrants can receive on top of their salary such as tax credits and child benefit. If they send those benefits back to family living in their home country, it is a serious contribution to their income. David Cameron has said before he does not think that child benefit should be paid to people with children living outside the UK – but these new proposals do nothing to address that.

What Cameron has demonstrated this week is that for him politics is about making grand speeches. It’s not about what comes after that – the detail, the research, the impact. Only about 10,000 people will be affected by Cameron’s proposals – hardly the kind of changes the British people have repeatedly said that they want.

But then, we would only be able to have a free and fair immigration system based on the needs of this country if we left the EU.

 

These Games show off what we all have in common

If the Scottish Nationalists were hoping that the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow would spur a “Yes” vote then from my reckoning it hasn’t gone to plan. During the brief snatches of sport I have been watching it has been great to hear the crowd giving huge cheers to all the competitors from the home nations: yes, even Team England.

I am sure Alex Salmond was hoping the sight of English and Welsh athletes going head to head with Scottish competitors would draw out an “us and them” feeling, but instead it has generated unity between the nations who usually compete together as Team GB.

And even though England’s cricketers have finally won something, we’ve needed the great results from the Commonwealth Games to lift the spirits of the gloomy British sports fan.

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