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Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 5th February 2016.

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Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People) 2:05 pm, 5th February 2016

May I, too, echo the tributes to Harry Harpham, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough? He was a long-standing servant of his community, including as a councillor for 15 years. I know that he will be greatly missed by all.

It is a privilege to serve in the House today as the duty Work and Pensions Minister, and to respond to my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and for Shipley (Philip Davies). Their forensic, constructive and diligent work has certainly kept the focus of attention on this area. The British public have sent a clear message that they are concerned that migrants are incentivised to come to the UK because of the attractiveness of our welfare system. That was clearly set out in the speeches of both my hon. Friends.

The Government share those concerns. That is why, during the past two years, we have introduced several far-reaching measures to restrict or remove access to a range of benefits for migrants who come to the UK without a job and who have not contributed to our economy. For example, EEA jobseekers can no longer access housing benefit at all. Their access to income-based jobseeker’s allowance is limited to the minimum we argue is allowable under EU law—just 91 days, in most circumstances—and even then only after they have waited for three months. We have also made similar changes to child benefit and child tax credit. On the specific point about declaring a national insurance number, it is the case that the number must be declared when making a benefit claim. It cannot yet be collected through the payment system, but that will be corrected with the introduction of universal credit. As universal credit rolls out, we will remove even such elements, meaning that EEA jobseekers have no entitlement to means-tested benefits whatever.

The Bill goes even further by proposing restrictions that would apply to EEA migrants who are working and contributing in the UK. The current framework of EU law would not allow us to deliver that, since clear European rules compel us to treat EEA nationals working in the UK no less favourably than UK nationals. However, the Prime Minister is renegotiating in Europe so that we get a better deal for Britain. That includes cutting the benefits EU migrants get to prevent our welfare system from acting as a magnet and to create a fairer system for people who work here and play by the rules. That is just part of our ongoing work to make changes.