The A8 welfare entitlements and media misconceptions.

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By Ewa Dida-Mikulin

Following the changes to access to the UK welfare system that came into force on 1st May, public debates opened up on how dangerous this could be for the UK. The evidence, however, suggests that A8 migrants predominantly come to work and not to claim benefits. Even Germany seems to regret imposing restrictions to their labour market back in 2004. According to Remi Adekoya, the politics editor of Warsaw Business Journal, “Germany sent the wrong signals to young, educated and mobile Poles immediately after the 2004 accession. The engineers, IT specialists and qualified medical personnel it now seeks left Poland for other countries years ago.”

As of the first of May this year, A8 migrants (nationals of the eight out of ten accession countries that joined the European Union in 2004 i.e. Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) enjoy full access to the welfare system in the UK. That is the same access as nationals of other EU countries. This is a move away from the former policy of migrants having had to work for a continuous period of twelve months in order to be able to access out-of-work benefits. As scary as it sounds, there is however no evidence to suggest this will result in an increase in “benefit tourism”.

The UK Border Agency report Accession Monitoring Report May 2004 – March 2008 states that “nationals from the A8 countries continue to come to the UK to work, contributing to the success of the UK economy, while making few demands on our welfare system.” And that “A8 workers are continuing to go where the work is, helping to fill the gaps in our labour market, particularly in administration, business and management, hospitality and catering, agriculture, manufacturing and food, fish and meat processing.” Furthermore, “in many cases, A8 nationals are supporting the provision of public services in communities across the UK.” The UKBA evidence also says that “almost 98% of applications for National Insurance Numbers made by A8 nationals between May 2004 and March 2008 were for employment purposes.”

Many tabloids as well as national press were keen to put this evidence aside and predicted the worse after 1st May. The BBC notes that “estimates in The Times suggest as many as 100,000 migrants could claim tens of millions of pounds in benefits.” The Daily Mail, chimed-in in March writing: “hundreds of thousands of migrants will gain full access to Britain’s generous benefits system within weeks”.

While the Telegraph declared:

“workers from former Eastern Bloc nations will become eligible to claim hundreds of pounds in jobseeker’s allowance, council tax help and housing benefits”, and that these: “benefits combined could be worth up to £250 a week, per person”.

However, in order to have access to welfare, a migrant has to legally arrive, live in the country as a resident, and meet other criteria. What is also worth noting is the fact that these headlines relate rather to a total number of people who may be able to claim benefits – but obviously not everyone will.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (Floodgates of turnstiles? Post-EU enlargement migration flows to (and from) the UK) points out that “at 84 per cent, the employment rate among post-enlargement migrants is among the highest of all immigrant groups, and is nine percentage points higher than the UK-born average.” Moreover, “A8 and A2 nationals work on average four hours longer per week than UK-born workers (46 hours compared with 42 hours)”.

What is more, the Office for National Statistics recent report states

“in the first quarter of 2011 an estimated 82.1 per cent of Poles aged 16 to 64 were in employment, compared with a rate of 70.7 per cent for the UK as a whole. The unemployment rate among Polish-born people aged 16 plus during the same period was 5.5 per cent, compared with a UK unemployment rate of 7.7 per cent (both not seasonally adjusted)”.

Those that argue that migrants from the A8 countries come to claim benefits rather than work should back their arguments up with evidence. It seems to me however, A8 nationals make ideal immigrants – they work a lot and don’t ask for much in return.
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