Sunday, 7 September 2014

EU Net Migration and Benefits

Last week the media were full of stories about the increase in EU net migration to Britain. The number of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria more than doubled, but, going from a tiny 12,000 to just 28,000, still leaves it well short of the millions that UKIP and sections of the gutter press were warning were about to stream into the country! In fact, in overall terms the 560,000 people who entered the country is not that much more than the 316,000 who left! Of those coming in the largest number, 177.000 were students. But, what is as interesting as the numbers coming in, that affects the net figure, is the change in the numbers leaving, and why that might be.

Of the 560,000 people who came into Britain in the last year, 81,000 were themselves actually British citizens who were returning! The majority of these, 38,000 were coming back to Britain for work, but the next biggest number, 18,000 were ex pats who were “going home to live”. In other words, people who had moved abroad to retire, but who were coming back. There has also been a marked reduction in the number of British people leaving the country compared to its peak.

In 2006, the number of British people leaving peaked at 207,000. Last year it was down to just 131,000. Of those half returned for work reasons. But, its also clear that Government policies, particularly in respect of benefits are likely to be affecting these figures.
British citizens leaving and returning to Britain.  Source: ONS
I wrote some time ago - Liberal-Tories, EU and ESA - that the Liberal-Tories had introduced, by stealth, a withdrawal of the provision of ESA for people who move to another EU country. But, in fact, that is just a part of the various limitations to the free movement of labour that increasingly seem to be drawing the UK out of the EU.

For example, not many people are aware of the fact that, even though you have paid social insurance contributions all your life, if you are out of the country for more than three months, you are not entitled to free treatment on the NHS. So, the ridiculous situation could arise, where a nurse, who has worked in the NHS for 40 years, and paid tax and national insurance, goes to work in Germany for six months, comes back, only to find that when they are taken ill they are no longer entitled to NHS treatment!

But, all of the other benefits that were supposed to be made reciprocal across the EU have been made similarly unavailable or susceptible to changes by the Liberal Tories. The same withdrawal of ESA, would apply to people claiming Disability Living Allowance and so on. Yet, how can there be a single market, which is what even the Eurosceptics say they signed up for in 1975, without such common rights and benefits for workers across that market?

One reason the net migration figures are up is because fewer British people now dare leave the country for fear of what might happen to their pensions and other benefits, and many of those who already have left are coming back for the same reasons. Take pensions. One of the advantages of the EU is that British pensioners can retire to an EU country, safe in the knowledge that their pension is guaranteed to be increased in line with inflation, just as it would be in Britain. That is not the case if you retire to some other country outside the EU. That is important, because a pension would soon become worthless if it did not rise in line with even low rates of inflation. But, if Britain pulls out of the EU, as the Tory Right, and UKIP want to do, that guarantee would disappear.

Millions of British workers, who have retired, on their pensions, to France, Spain and other places in the EU, to enjoy the last years of their lives, would find the rug pulled out from under them, all of their years of pension contributions, essentially made worthless.

No wonder then that the number of Britons leaving the country has declined, and the number coming back is increasing.

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