David Cameron’s speech today is being accused of being all spin and no substance. It is likely
only to increase public fears and misunderstanding about migrants and the welfare system – is this the outcome he wanted?
The Eastleigh by-election has been more significant than we could have anticipated. During the weeks since the byelection was dominated by UKIP’s inflamed rhetoric about EU migration, we have seen political messaging around immigration ramped up yet again. Successive statements from Nick Clegg last week and, today, David Cameron, have appeared to compete for who can scaremonger the loudest.
Cameron’s speech has dominated the news cycle for nearly three days now, with extracts of his speech having been drip-fed into the press over the weekend and sustaining numerous radio phone-ins and articles on migrants and the welfare system. The overarching message being shouted from Downing Street has been that immigrants to the UK are causing too much of a drain on the welfare state and that access now needs to be curbed.
The hype reached a feverpitch today, but when it came to the speech itself, Cameron was left looking like it was all poisonous spin and no substance. He again failed to put forward any real evidence on migrants and access to the welfare system – unsurprising as we know that overall most migrants are here to work, pay taxes and contribute, not to ‘sit around’ on benefits. In fact, the most recent wave of European migrants, from the A8 countries, made a substantial fiscal contribution overall and were much less likely than UK citizens to claim benefits or tax credits here. There is no compelling body of evidence to support a major restriction on access to benefits for migrants.
Even by Cameron’s own objectives, the actual measures that he outlined seemed unconvincing, whichever side of the argument you sit on. Clamping down on long-tem EU jobseekers unless they are ‘genuinely seeking work’? Isn’t that what Iain Duncan Smith’s claims his new Universal Credit system will be doing for everyone seeking to claim jobseekers allowance in the UK? Stopping migrants in the UK from ‘immediately gaining access to social housing’? Most non-EEA migrants have no access to social housing for their first five years already – EU migrants potentially have entitlement in some parts of the UK, but usually have to queue for years like everyone else on the list for a council house. And the announcement that the government apparently ‘will look to introduce stricter charging or a requirement for non-EEA temporary migrants to have private health insurance in order to access NHS care’ sounds ambiguous – and ambitious – enough to never come to pass.
All in all, this is a cynical strategy by the Government which will prove divisive, inevitably increasing public fears about immigration rather than easing them. But the surefire outcome of today’s speech was to achieve the next stage in the ‘arms race’ on immigration – a race that only UKIP can gain from.