Pulse.ng logo

In Europe Migrants feel like scapegoats as Britain seeks benefit curbs

But Christian Dustmann, director of the independent Centre for Research and Analysis on Migration, said such figures do not tell the full story as they do not take into account how much EU migrants contribute to the British economy.

  • Published:
EU migrants feel like scapegoats as Britain seeks benefit curbs play

EU migrants feel like scapegoats as Britain seeks benefit curbs

(The Guardian)

Ella Vine no longer speaks her native Polish at bus stops and train stations in Britain because there have been times she has been told to "shut up", or worse, by fellow passengers.

The 30-year-old, who has lived in England since 2007, says she feels a campaign by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to curb benefits for immigrants from other European Union member states has increased hostility to Poles in Britain.

With one eye on opinion polls, Cameron says he wants to reduce an "unsustainable rate of migration" but Vine believes Poles help drive economic growth and denies they are a burden on the British taxpayer.

More than 3 million EU migrants live in Britain, according to the independent Migration Observatory, with more from Poland than any other country in the bloc - approaching a third.

Many say they feel like scapegoats as tensions rise over immigration in the run-up to a referendum which Cameron has called on Britain's membership of the EU, and fear the vote could entrench prejudice and widen divisions in the country.

"It does make me feel like when I am waiting at the train station, or doing something like that, I don't want people to know that I am a migrant," Vine, chief executive of a healthcare charity, told Reuters in a shopping mall near Chafford Hundred, the village where she lives east of London.

The question of how migrants from other EU states use Britain's welfare system has become the most contentious plank of negotiations Cameron is holding with the 28-state bloc before the referendum he has promised voters by the end of 2017.



Vine, who once ran as a local councillor for the opposition Labour Party, set up a charity in 2012 to help Polish people but gave it up this year because she felt her work was blocked by hostile politicians and a negative press.

The "big dreams" that brought her to England and to her first job in a care home have been dented by the hostility she feels is aimed at Poles and other workers from eastern Europe.

"Still I sometimes feel uncomfortable and I don't want people on the streets to know that I am Polish because some people make assumptions, they read all these newspapers and they have this vision of migrants," she said.

When asked if the focus on migrant benefits was leading to increasing hostility against Poles, a spokeswoman for Cameron said: "The PM has been clear ... that he greatly values the contribution that many Poles make to the UK economy."

Opinion polls, especially since hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing poverty and war in the Middle East and Africa arrived in Europe this year, suggest the outcome of the referendum is far from certain.

Cameron, who will make his case to other EU leaders at a summit in Brussels this week, is hoping to win concessions that improve the terms of Britain's membership and boost the chances of Britons voting to stay in the EU.

Vowing to get Britain a "better deal and the best of both worlds" from the renegotiation, Cameron has promised to regain some sovereignty for the country while making the EU more competitive - both seen as achievable by some officials.

But by targeting so-called 'in-work' benefits - money given to some in low-paid jobs to make work more attractive than taking unemployment - to curb migration from the European Union he has taken a political gamble that critics warn may not pay off.



Cameron has proposed making EU migrants wait four years before they become eligible for in-work benefits, a measure he says will tackle an important "pull factor" bringing migrants to Britain where they can claim social payments almost immediately.

He has cited government estimates that up to 235,000 people from the European Economic Area - EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway - were claiming in-work and out-of-work benefits as of March 2013 to prove his argument.

But Christian Dustmann, director of the independent Centre for Research and Analysis on Migration, said such figures do not tell the full story as they do not take into account how much EU migrants contribute to the British economy.

A paper he co-authored last year showed that from 2001 to 2011, migrants from the 'EU-15' of western and southern EU countries had contributed 64 percent more in taxes than they received in benefits, while immigrants from central and eastern European countries gave 12 percent more than they took.

He said he expected the analysis would be much the same now, and this chimes with many Polish workers who say they did not come to Britain for benefits, but to work.

Przemek de Skuba Skwirczynski, a Polish-born banker, points to the 2011 census which shows that Poles - who now number more than 850,000 in Britain - were the most highly employed migrants in the country.

"The Poles are not coming here for benefits. They might be receiving in-work benefits as they learn about them ... but the main driver of the Polish migration is work," said Skwirczynski, who has little affection for the EU and ran in two elections for Britain's anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP).



Now returned to the Conservative Party, he questions the government's argument on benefits and says even if his adopted country left the EU - which he would like to happen - it would do little to deter Poles wanting a better life.

"Cutting these benefits won't stop the migration," he said.

Cameron must convince voters he has not only moved to curb immigration, which is regularly at the top of Britons' concerns, but also that he has extracted concessions from the EU if he wants people to vote to stay in the bloc.

That may prove difficult as, despite weeks of talks, European Commission and British officials have yet to find agreement and a host of EU leaders have criticised the plan as being discriminatory on grounds of nationality.

Saying he is "open to ideas" on welfare, some analysts have suggested Cameron will be forced to compromise, something that pollsters suggest could fuel anti-EU sentiment and tip the referendum vote in favour of leaving.

But whether he will succeed in curbing benefits or not, some Polish workers, like English teacher Patryk Malinski, say the legacy of the prime minister's push to put EU migrants at the heart of his renegotiation will be a more divided country.

"I think they are playing with fire because I don't think they realise that actually a lot of British people now view it as a big issue because they have been told to do so," Malinski said. "It's dividing communities.

Do you ever witness news or have a story that should be featured on Pulse Nigeria?
Submit your stories, pictures and videos to us now via WhatsApp: +2349055172167, Social Media @pulsenigeria247: #PulseEyewitness & DM or Email: eyewitness@pulse.ng. More information here.