Cameron should correct error on in-work benefits

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 08.02.2016


If you’re slightly confused by the numbers flying around on EU migrants claiming “in-work benefits”, that’s entirely forgivable. David Cameron himself doesn’t seem to know what he is talking about.

The prime minister told MPs last week that “40% of EU migrants coming to Britain access the in-work benefits system”. The actual number, according to the government’s own data, is roughly two thirds of that level.

The error is all the more worrying given that Cameron has made reform of in-work benefits, which top up the pay of those on low incomes, the centrepiece of his renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU. He says generous in-work benefits, which average £6,000 per EU migrant family that access them, act as an unnatural pull for people to cross the Channel in search of work. The day before the prime minister spoke to MPs he secured a draft deal allowing Britain to limit such benefits for up to four years.

Cameron confused in-work benefits with benefits in general. The data he referred to in the House of Commons shows that, four years after arriving in the UK, about 40% of European Economic Area* migrants were supported by any sort of working-age benefit. Of that, around 66% were supported by in-work benefits (housing benefit or tax credits).

The prime minister can correct his error by writing to the editor of Hansard and asking it to publish a ministerial correction. He should do so.

* The European Economic Area is the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein