I have always been a supporter of the welfare system, and I have always been proud that Britain was a pioneer in ensuring that we protect and secure the safety of people who really need it through providing a basic payment so people can pay for shelter and food. It is also my opinion that the welfare system has been abused and mistreated by individuals wanting to choose a life on benefits as a life style choice. Though from what I can see in my profession, most people on Job Seekers Allowance, Universal Credit or Employment Support Allowance do not want this to be a permanent way of life, and it generally is a temporary fix.
Do benefits need to be cut? Does there need to be stricter regulations and rules on who should claim benefits? I would say yes. I think that one of the problems we face in Britain is that life on benefits has become an easier option then working, so what has happened is that a single person who is renting a one bedroom flat and is having to pay in excess of £800 per month is actually better off claiming JSA and Housing Benefit rather than taking a part time 16 hour job, since they would probably be worse off if they were to take that job. Furthermore, the sad truth is, many jobs in the job market are now either part time or with a zero hours contract. This is wrong, so the most obvious thing for the Government to try and do is to attempt to make work more financially appealing by perhaps providing higher subsidies to people who are working rather than squeezing the people who decide to work but can only find part time hours.
Though this is not my point. The Government have instead focused their attention on non-British claimants, especially claimants who originated from other EU countries. Back in 2014, a new legislation was bought in to EEA Migrants (effective from May 2015); in short, what this meant was that any EU migrants who were claiming JSA and Housing benefit had their benefits completely cut based on an assessment which reflected whether they could find a job. Now you may be thinking ‘they should be coming to Britain to work, not to claim benefit’, and I would even agree with you on this. Let’s face it, if I left to travel to Spain, Hungary or Romania, I doubt it would be easy for me to claim state benefits in these countries as a British migrant; I doubt it is even easy for the natives to receive state benefits. But I do fear the Government have gotten it all wrong by taking this blanket approach.
In my job, I have to help Job Seekers into employment, and I have seen peoples life’s torn apart as a result of this new legislation. There was this one client from Italy who was 63 years old back in May Jan 2015; he had been living and working in Britain since 1998. In 2013, he became seriously ill and had a stroke which prevented him from working. In November 2015, purely because he was born in Italy, the Government decided to completely cut his Housing Benefit, Job Seekers Allowance, and he has been refused Pension Credits (despite contributing to his own state pension in the UK for the past 18 years). This man has seen, lived and worked more in the UK then myself, most of my colleagues, and more than most of my British clients. Yet he has been punished and stigmatised for something which is out of his control.
This is just one example of many which I could provide to you. And one of the most ironic things of all is that it is generally migrants (from within and outside of the EU) who actually find work quicker than my British clients. Is this because they are taking British jobs thus keeping British people out of work? No. It is because British people are more reluctant to work on minimum wage jobs than migrants are. It is arguable (and my opinion probably fact) that immigration has decrease wages over the years; a quick example is the fact that Private Nurseries can pay a teacher with QTS (recognised by the Department of Education) minimum wage for doing a teaching job. This happened to one of my friends; she was from outside the UK, and her first job as a teacher with QTS was minimum wage. However, the point is that she did not come and take this job from a British person, she came and got the job because it was available to citizens of the UK. If wages have decreased, this is not migrants fault: it is the cause of British people refusing to work and deciding to choose a life on benefits, and companies categorically choosing to exploit the labour of migrants by offering lower wages.
Perhaps the Government should not be so trigger happy when it comes to welfare benefits to EU migrants. I do agree with David Cameron (I just felt a shudder down my spine!) that people should contribute to the country before they can claim social security benefits. But I ask him this: why are you thus stopping the benefits of people who have worked hard in the UK for decades? These people may not be British born, but many of them are just as British as I am.
EU migrants rights to benefits should not be used as a weapon in the EU debate. We have already made their life a living hell for those who are claiming benefits to try and help themselves secure a job. At this point, leaving the EU is going to have no difference. The damage has already been done to them.