Clacton: MP warns benefits systems could become “unmanageable” without a residency test

Douglas Carswell, MP for Clacton

Douglas Carswell, MP for Clacton - Credit: Archant

The European Commission’s move to reverse UK residency tests for benefit claimants could result in the benefits system becoming “unmanageable”, an MP has claimed.

Conservative MP for Clacton Douglas Carswell says he supports the government’s introduction of a residency test designed to ensure that only people who have paid into the system are able to draw benefits like job seekers allowance and child tax credits. He says it has been brought in to prevent migrants from the European Union area coming to the UK and claiming benefits without having worked first - a practice that has become known as ‘benefits tourism’. But the move is being contested by the Commission who says the policy is discriminatory and against European free movement legislation.

According to Mr Carswell, the issue is important for the east of England region, which has the highest number of EU migrants outside London. He also feels it has implications for his local district council in Tendring, which has introduced a number of residency-based polices so that people can only qualify for council tax discounts and social housing if they have lived in the area for a number of years.

Mr Carswell said: “The UK is one of only five countries in the EU where people can draw payments when unemployed without having paid into the system. If you or I went to France, Spain, Italy or Greece and tried to get dole without having paid in we wouldn’t be allowed to and rightly so.

“I’m not saying shut the doors to migrants - they provide valuable labour for farmers and the NHS amongst others - but when the welfare state was set up in 1948, Clement Attlee surely didn’t envision it would be used to support people from Spain and Portugal who hadn’t contributed.”

He added: “Already around 4% of those on job seekers allowance - one in every 25 claimants - are EU benefit claimants. If the European Commission gets its way the benefits system could become unmanageable. And where does it leave my council in Tendring that has also set residency tests? There’s a danger that rules set in Europe could jeopardise polices at a local level.”