Friday, April 5, 2013

FT: UK and Romania in migrant benefits talks

By Helen Warrell, Public Policy Correspondent

The UK is in talks with Romania about a campaign to make clear that EU nationals entering Britain do not have an automatic entitlement to welfare and benefits.

David Lidington, Europe minister, confirmed that there was a joint exercise, begun this month when he visited Victor Ponta, Romanian prime minister, in Bucharest.

It is part of attempts by coalition ministers to protect UK public services from a feared influx of Romanians and Bulgarians when labour controls on these countries are lifted at the end of this year.

“The last thing [Mr Ponta] wanted was for his citizens to have a reputation for being dependent on welfare payments,” the Europe minister said.

He added that the Romanian premier was keen to work with British ministers to banish any perception that those entering the UK were “entitled” to use the welfare system.

Mr Lidington’s comments came as the Foreign Office published an independent report into the probable effect of migration from the “EU2” countries when the transitional restrictions end.

Conservative backbenchers have raised fears that the UK faces an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians, just as the accession of eight eastern European countries to the EU resulted in a flood of migrants to Britain in the mid-2000s.

However the research, carried out by the National Institute of Social and Economic Research, plays down the prospect of a rush to the UK, pointing out that the main destination for EU2 migrants so far has been Spain, Italy and, to a lesser, extent Germany.

The authors suggested that this trend would probably continue in 2014, despite the recession in Spain and Italy, because of established migrant communities in these countries.

The NIESR report also highlighted that EU2 migrants already in Britain arrived while they were young and without children, and with a higher skill profile than other EU migrants, therefore reducing the impact on public services.

But while researchers suggested that anxiety about the stresses on welfare, health and housing had been overblown, they admitted that Romanians and Bulgarians could increase the existing strain on primary school places – which is particularly intense in London.

“Migration from countries where access to formal education is later than in the UK has also placed additional demands on schools to fill gaps in early numeracy and literacy,” the report said.

“This particular demand may arise in relation to migration from Bulgaria and Romania because compulsory schooling in both countries begins at age seven.”

Mr Lidington said research justified the government’s decision not to try to estimate the size of the Romanian and Bulgarian influx, given the myriad factors at play.

“From my point of view it’s an independent report and sums up very clearly why it’s not sensible to start making detailed forecasts of numbers,” the minister said.

“But it does suggest a number of reasons not to wind ourselves into a panic.”

Keith Vaz, a Labour MP who chairs the Commons’ home affairs committee, criticised the government’s reticence in providing a forecast. He said the committee would undertake its own inquiry to gauge a realistic prediction of the number of arrivals.

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