Notes From the Margins…

Foreign scroungers take our benefits

  • January 20, 2012
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It doesn’t stop, and in those dank and rancid corners of the national press that are forever England, it never will.   Today the rightwing broadsheets and tabloids are venting on full spleen, spraying indignant flecks of bile at a report from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) which claims that 370,000 foreign-born residents in the UK are claiming state benefits.

The news has generated the kind of nuanced and thoughtful headlines we have come to  expect:

370,000 migrants on the doleThe Daily Telegraph

More than £2 BILLION in benefits are paid out to foreigners each yearThe Daily Mail

Foreigners get £2.1 billion in benefits every yearThe Daily Express

Foreign legions on doleThe Daily Star

Coming just two days after UK unemployment jumped to 2.69 million for the first time since the Major years, these are headlines to warm a coalition government’s heart, and are clearly part of an orchestrated attempt to distract attention from the UK’s failing economy and focus attention on the familiar image of  ‘foreigners’ as parasitical intruders.

Thus we find an article in the Telegraph co-authored by employment minister Chris Grayling and the minister for immigration Damian Green  entitled  Labour didn’t care who landed in Britain, which explains how the government initiated the DWP  research  project which aimed  ‘ to match information about people”s nationality when they entered the country with the list of people now on benefits’.

Why would the government want to do this?   According to Grayling/Green, it’s because ‘  we have to have a system that is fair and transparent, and which stops people receiving money that they should not be entitled to.’    

An admirable aspiration no doubt.  Except that the government’s concern with the numbers of ‘immigrants’ and ‘foreigners’ who might not be entitled to state benefits has nothing to  do with fairness or transparency.  It is a cynical gambit intended to score points over Labour and fuel ‘anger at the huge burden of benefit tourism’ as the Daily Express puts it – regardless of the evidence.

Grayling and Green themselves point out that most of the claims in the government’s findings are not illegitimate and they are not even made by ‘foreigners’:

We”ve tracked down three quarters of them, and most have a right to what they are receiving. They are people who have settled here, either by becoming British nationals or being given indefinite leave to remain. Those people who are now British nationals are fully entitled to means-tested benefits. Those who come here for a limited period cannot claim benefits. But if we allow them to stay, the current rules say they can access our welfare state.

Yes, ‘our’ welfare state that the government is so fond of.   No wonder the Daily Mail – that well-known supporter of the welfare system –  quotes Grayling promising that the government ‘will  root out those claimants who cannot prove their immigration status and in turn they will be stripped of their benefits.”

The report behind today’s newsplash is based on    a random survey by the DWP of 9,000  claimants ‘ who at the time they registered for a NINo (National Insurance Number) were non-UK nationals’.    The 370,000 figure is an estimate based on these preliminary findings.

Contrary to the way it has been represented in the press, this figure does not refer to non-UK nationals on  ‘the dole’, but foreign-born  claimants accessing a variety of different state benefits that include disability allowance and widow’s benefit, out of an overall national total of just over five and a half million claimants.

Of these 1, 438,000 are on jobseekers allowance, of whom 121,000 claimants were listed as non-UK nationals at the time they first made their claims –  8.5 percent of the national total.   The DWP’s figures also note that that 98 percent of all claimants in the survey have subsequently been found to have ‘  an immigration status consistent with a claim  for DWP working age benefits’, that includes British citizenship (54 percent of the total), indefinite leave to remain (29 percent) and refugee status (10 percent).

These conclusions do not exactly amount to a national emergency.    Nor do they  bear out the thesis of a massive abuse of the system by illegitimate foreigners.  Of the DWP’s 9,000 samples, 1,316 ‘could not be be matched to the computer information database’ and their immigration status could not be established, while 68 claimants ‘had no lawful immigration status‘ and another 57 were ‘subject to immigration enforcement action’.

So that’s it folks.   Out of 9,000 ‘foreigners’ claiming state benefits in February 2011,  125 might have been claiming benefits that they were not entitled to.  Really makes you want to throw up your hands in horror, doesn’t it?

In some quarters it really does.  So the Express tells us that foreigners are ‘pocketing £2.1 billion a year in welfare benefits.’   And the Mail accompanies an article on today’s report by recycling a story that was widely covered in the tabloids  last August, about a Somali family who were rehoused in an £8,000 house in West Hampsteads.

The relevance of this story to today’s headlines, from the Mail‘s point of view, is that Saeed Khaliif, the family’s father,  ‘has up  to eight children and lives on benefits. He has not worked since arriving here three years ago.

The Mail does not say why Mr Khaliif has not worked.  But it does not need to.  A photograph of his wife smiling in the doorway holding a mobile phone will tell the story to its readers; that the Khalifahs are Third World migrants who breed too much and that they belong to the ‘The foreigners being paid £2billion in benefits a year including 371,000 on the dole (and 5,000 claiming £42m in illegal handouts).’

Hatred is duly served and the useful distinctions between them and us are maintained and reinforced.   Just get rid of the immigrants and everything will be alright again.   So all in all a good day’s work for the government.   And ministers can go to bed tonight with a cup of hot cocoa and congratulate themselves on a job well done.




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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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