Myth Buster – Debunking the horror stories surrounding the EU Freedom of Movement directive.
Currently Theresa May has made stopping FoM a red-line issue even at the expense of the UK’s membership of the Single Market.
One of the four freedoms enjoyed by EU citizens is the free movement of workers. This includes the rights of movement and residence for workers, the rights of entry and residence for family members, and the right to work in another Member State and be treated on an equal footing with nationals of that Member State. Restrictions apply in some countries for citizens of Member States that have recently acceded to the EU.
There appears to be 4 major arguments in favour of stopping EU migrants exercising this freedom to come and work in the UK. It is my intention to debunk each of these arguments as plainly false.
Claim 1 – “Inability for the UK to control migration into the UK”
The rules and safeguards for the Freedom of Movement can be found here
A summary of these rules are:
Freedom for a citizen of another EU member state to move to the UK applies to
- Economically active EU-citizens (i.e. working)
- Plus their families if EU-citizens
- Non-economically active EU-citizens for up to 3-months
- Non-economically active (not working) EU-citizens longer than 3-months provided:
- They can show they have sufficient finance
- They take out a comprehensive sickness insurance policy
- FoM does not apply to
- Non-economically active EU-citizens without funds
- Non-economically active EU-citizens without sickness insurance
- EU-citizens who have no realistic chance of working
- Family members of an EU citizen who is not an EU Citizen may reside in the UK but does not have an automatic right to work
- EU-citizens working in the UK acquire rights to benefits after working for a period
- EU-citizens not working do not have rights to Benefits
- The UK has the right to restrict FoM through:
- Suspension of the FoM for up to 7 years from when a new member country joins by
- Preventing/prohibiting movement or
- UK can insist upon work permits for each migrant
- Benefit/Welfare “tourism” is illegal
- Suspension of the FoM for up to 7 years from when a new member country joins by
No-one prosecuted to-date as UK not tracking the issue
UK has chosen not to enforce these restrictions
There is a view that our politicians have either misunderstood these provisions or deliberately ignored them – read this blog from 2013 by Professor Brad Blitz for his view.
UK chose not to control the 2004 inflow of migrants
Certainly it is true that one of the sharpest rises in net migration came in 2004, when the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia joined. However it is also fact that the UK was one of only 3 of the original EU members to choose not to apply transitional restrictions on these eight countries and as such the UK invited this surge. They could have avoided it if they wished. Restrictions can apply for up to 7 years after a new member joins the EU and there are provisions to restrict movement if there should be any localised “surges”.
UK does not know or track how many migrants are in the country
It is important to realise that the UK does not know how many EU migrants are in the country, as migrants are not checked or tracked. The numbers provided by Government are estimates only. The total migrant population is measured through the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the Annual Population Survey (APS), which aggregates and supplements LFS data to improve statistical accuracy. The annual movement of migrants is measured primarily through the International Passenger Survey (IPS), which surveys passengers at UK ports, with additional data on migration to and from Northern Ireland and Home Office data on asylum seekers.
The UK could have managed the inflow of EU migrants and chose not to.
Claim 2 – “Need to restrict and /or eliminate so called “Benefit Fraud” and “Welfare Tourism””
An ongoing claim of the anti-EU lobby has been that EU migrants are coming to the UK merely to access public services and the host state’s benefits system. Indeed the UK Prime Minister Theresa May, when Home Secretary, claimed that these citizens are “benefit tourists.” However, whilst this has not stopped Ms May making this claim, the British government keeps no figures on how many European Union nationals claim welfare payments in the UK and so there is no evidence to back these claims.
Actually, when checked then rather than being a “unacceptable burden” our EU migrants are contributing significantly to the economy, far more than their UK-native counterparts.
A FactCheck study on these claims showed that EU migrants rather than being a drain on the UK bank balance actually contribute significantly, far more than their UK-native counterparts.
According to the European Commission, between 2004 and 2009 free movement from newer member countries increased the GDP of the old EU member countries by almost one percent.
A further study showed that where UK-natives (during 2001-2011) claimed more than they paid in Tax the reverse was the case for EU Migrants who contributed significantly.
So there is no Benefit Tourism that the UK can point to however, even if there were migrants abusing the system as claimed then the FoM directive is clear. The directive enables Member States to adopt the necessary measures to refuse, terminate or withdraw any right conferred in the event of abuse of rights or fraud, such as marriages of convenience. Article 35 of the directive expressly grants Member States the power, in the event of abuse or fraud, to withdraw any right conferred by the directive. The Migrant could be removed from the UK as well as prosecuted for Fraud.
The problem would seem to be more one of lack of control by the UK Government rather than “Benefit Tourism” by migrants.
Claim 3 – “Migrants reduce wages and take jobs of the UK-natives”
Another false claim I’m afraid.
This paper from the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) at UCL found that immigration depressed wages slightly for the very low paid between 1997 and 2005. But the overall effect over the whole wage distribution was slightly positive.
Another report looked specifically at the period when the UK experienced a surge of EU migration 2004-2006 and found “Despite anecdotal evidence, we found little hard evidence that the inflow of accession migrants contributed to a fall in wages or a rise in claimant unemployment in the UK between 2004 and 2006.”
Research commissioned by the Migration Advisory Committee found that “inflows of working-age EU migrants did not have a statistically significant association with native employment” between 1995 and 2010.
Finally a study Brexit and the Impact of Immigration on the UK concluded:
- There is also little effect of EU immigration on inequality through reducing the pay and jobs of less skilled UK workers. Changes in wages and joblessness for less educated UKborn workers show little correlation with changes in EU immigration.
- EU immigrants pay more in taxes than they take out in welfare and the use of public services. They therefore help reduce the budget deficit. Immigrants do not have a negative effect on local services such as crime, education, health, or social housing
Claim 4 – “Unfair pressures on the NHS and public services caused by this uncontrolled mass migration”
This would, on the face of it, provide the most pressing argument in the case against FoM. Surely uncontrolled migration into an area could and has swamped local services and increased pressure on Public Services such as increased NHS waiting times.
Well, the first thing to consider is that the UK has singularly failed to apply the controls available to manage the movement of migrants, opting not to impose transitional restrictions in 2004 and failing to even track where EU migrants are. The truth is the Government do not know if this is an issue or not.
However, once again, facts disprove these allegations and a study of nationwide immigration data shows that immigration actually reduced waiting times for outpatient referrals. On average, a 10 percentage point increase in the share of migrants living in a local authority would reduce waiting times by 9 days.
A Channel4 FactCheck on the topic concludes:
“The Office for Budget Responsibility accepts the basic point that immigrants tend to improve the country’s finances. A major cut in immigration would mean tax hikes or more spending cuts, the watchdog has said.
This is because migrants tend to be younger and healthier, so they are more likely to be in work and paying taxes and less likely to be retired or to need healthcare.
HMRC recently said that recently arrived EEA nationals paid £3.1bn in income tax and national insurance in 2013/2014. They took out £0.56bn in HMRC benefits.
In 2014 all EU migrants paid £14.71B in taxes and claimed £2.56b in Tax Credits and Child Benefits meaning that they contributed a net £12.15B to the UK purse.
Of course, this kind of macroeconomic analysis cannot capture the experiences of people living in areas that have seen very high levels of EU immigration, so we can’t rule out incidents of pressure on local services.
I think it is pretty clear that there has been a concerted effort to show the FoM in a bad light and our current Conservative Government and Theresa May in particular must shoulder some of the blame for this.
The FoM has increased GDP (by an estimated 1%), has increased tax revenues (by a net £2b over benefits claimed), provided the largest source of labour for an otherwise impoverished NHS and also provided the freedom for 1.4m UK citizens to work or retire all over Europe.
The problems are in the main perceived rather than real and are exacerbated by the sheer incompetence of successive governments and the Home Office (again including the 6 years that Theresa May has been in charge). A failure to implement the available controls, manage or indeed even track the migration of labour into the UK. A shameful state of affairs that has contributed in no small part to the current Brexit debacle.