26 March 2013

Government struggles following UK immigration speech

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In what was supposed to be a tough speech on his Government's UK immigration policy, David Cameron's has been quickly undermined, and matters have only worsened since.

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David Cameron's speech on UK immigration has quickly been dissected.

Speaking in Ipswich yesterday, Mr Cameron spoke of his Government's success in bringing UK immigration rates down and announced plans to limit the effect Bulgarian and Romanian migrants could have on British social services when they gain full access to the European Union at the end of the year.

The prime minister said he would limit European Economic Area (EEA) migrants' access to benefits and social housing lists as well as take a tougher approach to recouping the cost of treating migrants on the NHS from patients' home countries.

"EEA migrants who don't have a genuine chance of getting work after six months will lose their right to access certain benefits," said Mr Cameron. So yes, they can still come and stay here if they want to, but the British taxpayer will not go on endlessly paying for them anymore."

The PM's speech was seen as a toughening up of the Government's approach to UK immigration policy following the Conservative Party's embarrassing loss to the UK Independence Party in the recent Eastleigh by-election.

However, the outcome was less than ideal for Mr Cameron after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt disputed the prime minister's figures, as he was delivering them.

Mr Cameron's spokesperson said the NHS should be able to recoup as much as a further £20 million in medical costs:

"We are looking at how you can better recoup costs from EEA countries. It is a question of the NHS getting better at being able to take and follow up the information it needs in order to recoup those costs."

But speaking to The World at One on Radio 4, Mr Hunt said £20 million was a wild underestimate of the true amount spent in treating EEA patients.

"I don't think those numbers are at all accurate," he said.

"The reason is because hospitals, if they treat someone who is not entitled to NHS care - if they declare that person is a foreigner who is not entitled to that care then they have the responsibility to collect the money from that person.

"Whereas if they declare that person as a UK national then the money is paid for by the NHS. So we have created a strong incentive for hospitals in the system not to pick out the people who aren't entitled to free NHS care. That is one of the things we need to change.

"I don't want to speculate on what that number might be. But the number we have heard is actually not £20m, it is £200m. I think it is significantly more than that."

While the prime minister may have been able to shrug off his health minister's assertions as a statement of support, albeit one that was perhaps misstated, his Downing St spokesperson struggled with other claims within the PM's speech.

Mr Cameron said the number of social lettings taken up by migrants had increased by 40% between 2007/08 and 2011/12 yet Downing St could not dispute the fact this was actually only an increase from 6.5% to 9% in the total number.

Despite migrants' access to benefits forming a large part of Mr Cameron's speech, official figures show just 13,000 of the two million migrants from Eastern Europe since 2004 have actually claimed Job Seeker's Allowance.

Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) said Mr Cameron's speech was proof of the intensifying debate on immigration in the UK.

"This rhetoric may curtail rights to benefits on a minor scale, but relatively few migrants compared with 'indigenous' people actually claim benefit anyway," said Mr Rahman.

"The real effect of this speech will be to further increase the intolerance and the hostile reception that immigrants are facing from some sections of society.

"There's nothing new about people from these countries coming to live and work in the UK. This media hysteria denies the fact that immigration helps our economy and is a great boon to tackling the coming demographic imbalanced posed by our ageing population."

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