By Paul Goodman
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No previous Government has recorded the nationality of benefit claimaints. This one has taken the first steps towards doing so. The Telegraph reports today that it has undertaken some research – part of it a study based on applications for National Insurance cards. It found that there were 371,000 foreign-born claimants for out-of-work benefits, out of a total 5.5 million recipients. Of these, 258,000 were from outside the European Economic Area – the highest number originally coming from Pakistan, Somalia and India. Details from a quarter of claimants could not be verified. Two per cent of them were suspected of making fraudulent claims.
Conservative Ministers have thus re-entered the debate on work and immigration which others have recently been having: the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) both recently published reports. It is worth noting that those who are leading it today aren't the heads of the two main Departments involved, Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith. Instead, Chris Grayling and Damian Green have wrapped up the research's findings with a Telegraph opinon piece – "Labour didn't care who landed in Britain".
These two former Shadow Cabinet members must be near the top of any queue for promotion to the Cabinet. Unlike some of their Conservative colleagues and all their Labour ones, their departmental responsibilities give them a personal stake in delivering the pledged reduction of immigration under this Government to the tens of thousands. They want to prove that they are on the case, are capable of higher things, and can get results – especially at a time when voters are more sensitive than ever to the impact of immigration on jobs and benefits.
The article says that "the nationality of all benefit claimants will be recorded when the universal credit comes in 2013". Otherwise, it has little policy detail, and Grayling and Green are careful to say that "if someone works and pays taxes here, it’s not unreasonable that we should help out if they fall on hard times". On the Today programme this morning, Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch warned against reading too much into the research, and was surely right to do so. (National Insurance cards don't always give reliable information, to put it mildly.)
Books by politicians come and go: a flurry of them were launched at this year's Conservative Party Conference. So it is sometimes important that the ideas promoted in them aren't simply forgotten. Less than two years ago, Nick Boles advanced some radical immigration proposals in his book Which Way's Up. He argued that all non-EU migrants should be required to pay a surety deposit on entry and that EU migrants should only be able to enter if supported by work income or independent means, as a directive requires.
The MAC report found a link between non-EU immigration and job losses. Boles said that the deposit should be repaid if the migrant concerned had paid "taxes here for a number of years, or forfeited if they committed an offence or lived here without paying income tax". If they're not doing so already, Ministers should be looking to advance his ideas. In the meanwhile, we await their proposals on how best to deal with family migration. (A consultation document was issued in July.) As they well know, they won't meet their pledge without action on this front.