Welfare benefits at centre of UK's EU renegotiation

14th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron's most controversial demand in EU renegotiations -- which are aimed at avoiding a "Brexit" -- is to curb welfare benefits for European Union migrants in Britain.

Conservative premier Cameron wants to restrict EU migrant workers' access to benefits such as in-work tax credits, child welfare payments and state-subsidised housing, for a four-year period.

However, many EU member states view this as discriminatory and at odds with the bloc's principle of free movement.

Britain's welfare system provides social aid to the poorest workers, in the form of tax credits, to supplement their low incomes and encourage employment.

So-called "working tax credits" are paid on a weekly or monthly basis to low-paid people working at least 16 hours a week if they are single.

They are also paid to people who work 24 hours per week if they are in a couple with children, or 30 hours a week if they are childless.

Cameron also wants to prevent European migrant workers from claiming family benefits -- especially if their children remain in their home nation -- and curb access to social housing, again for a four-year period.

"We want to end the idea of something for nothing," the prime minister said in January, insisting that migrants must pay into the system before they can receive benefits.

Between 37 percent and 45 percent of citizens from the European Economic Area who arrived in Britain from March 2009 until March 2013 received benefits, according to a government report published in November.

However, the findings were disputed by some experts, who argued that migrant workers are motivated by the prospect of a job rather than welfare payments.

Other studies show that EU migrant workers are net contributors to the British economy.

European immigrants arriving since 2000 paid a total of £20 billion ($29 billion, 26 billion euros) to the public purse between 2001 and 2011, according to a report published last year by University College London.

Academics at UCL argued that immigrants had been of substantial net fiscal benefit -- and cited the higher average labour market participation compared with Britons, and their lower receipt of welfare payments.

© 2016 AFP

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