Just when the coalition government thought they had some sort of welfare reform plan to move forward with, along comes the European Commission to throw a spanner in the works.
The European Commission (EC) believes that the UK benefits system unfairly discriminates against nationals of other member states in that it requires them to pass a ‘right to reside test’ prior to being eligible to claim for certain benefits such as child benefit, child tax credit, pension credit, Jobseekers Allowance, and the Employment and Support Allowance.
But this test, says the EC, puts extra requirements on citizens from the other countries of the EU so constitutes a form of indirect discrimination against them.
This has thrown the plans of the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith, into disarray as it would add an extra Â£700 million to Â£2.5 billion to the overall cost. Something he has not factored in and especially embarrassing for the Tories when you consider their imminent annual conference.
Mr Duncan-Smith, understandable angry, said in the Telegraph that ‘This kind of land grab from the EU has the potential to cause mayhem to nation states, and we will fight it’ as well as calling it ‘part of a “wider movement” by the “unelected and unaccountable” European authorities to extend their power over the UK’.
The EC has given the UK two months to get its house in order.
Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, rounded on the move by the EC and wrote on their web-site (now removed) "Once again we see the EC telling us how to run our country and people are becoming sick and tired of it. The UK is perfectly within its rights to require EU nationals to fulfill certain conditions before taking advantage of our generous benefits system. If the EC gets its way then there will be a far greater burden on the British taxpayer as more money will need to be found for the social security system. The 'right to reside' test should stay. It is not discrimination, but simply a system to ensure that benefits are only paid to those who are entitled to them."
The Tory MEP Julie Girling said ‘British taxpayers will want to know why their hard-earned money should now be directed straight into the pockets of any EU national who chooses to come here and make a claim. This can only lead to a boom in benefits tourism. And with our generous system, Britain will be destination of choice.’ Note the words ‘generous system’.
But let’s just stand back and take stock of the situation shall we? We have allowed ourselves to be taken into the EU and have signed up to abide by the club rules. That includes effectively treating all European Union citizens the same as UK citizens. That’s the rules that this and previous governments have signed us up to, that they support and that they openly embrace.
Therefore it is right for other members of the club to expect us to uphold the club rules for them to be treated in the UK exactly the same as the people who already live here. That’s what we signed up to, whether we like it or not.
So, if we want to hand out generous benefits and also want to belong to the EU club then we have to swallow the cost.
Or we can leave the EU and sort out our own benefits on our own terms.
Or we can tear up our generous benefits system to make it less attractive to EU benefits tourism.
The choice is actually ours, not the European Commission’s.