Street magazine The Big Issue was founded to give the most vulnerable in society a genuine opportunity to earn a living legally. Showing the degree to which the original mission has gone off-track, in many cases it is now being used as a means to legitimise the impoverished Eastern European underclass in Britain.
It’s been a bumper week for benefits tourism bust-ups. Iain Duncan Smith criticised European Union laws which allow benefit tourists to abuse working tax credits in Britain, by registering themselves as self-employed. In reality this small loophole, which has been known and widely reported since 2011, masks the very real problem of the EU forcing the Britain’s hand on benefits. It has also been revealed in the past week that eastern European immigrants are taking advantage of the Britain’s generous laws on paid sick leave. In some cases migrants are taking paid ‘sickie’ holidays back to their home nations lasting up to seven months. Even though employers may be well aware of the fraud, they are powerless to prevent them as the absences are supported by Doctors sick notes posted from abroad.
Since the accession of Romania and the end of transitional controls this year, the government and Duncan Smith have been fighting an uphill battle to control access to benefits. The 3-month exclusion rules applied to Romanian immigrants are hard won, but reflect the lack of power Westminster has over its own policy. The strict rules enforced by the European single market means our democratically elected government is reduced to tinkering on the side-lines of policy, rather than setting the agenda themselves.
That Brussels forces us to pay out over the odds for various benefits, while at the same time ‘helpfully’ suggesting the Britain raises VAT and council tax, is extremely unwelcome. If we want to make our own laws on access to benefits for economic migrants, or even immigration itself, our relationship with Europe must change fundamentally. The government missed an enormous opportunity last week in not making any provision within the Queen’s speech for an In/Out referendum on the European Union. Our urgent need for a referendum on our membership of the EU should not be the subject of political horse-trading; it is a matter for the British people alone.
Oliver Lane, Research Assistant