New figures on EU migrants and welfare significantly lower than UK Government’s estimates

New figures released by the Migration Observatory for benefit claimants from Europe are significantly lower than the estimate produced by the UK Government last year.

The figures on EU migrants and welfare have been released to inform the public debate in the run-up to the EU referendum.

The report, “Migration, welfare benefits and EU membership”, provides updated statistics on welfare use by people born in EEA countries for 2015. It shows that working age adults from these countries are slightly less likely be receiving state benefits than the UK born.

The benefit most commonly claimed by people from EEA countries in 2015 was tax credits, which are usually received in work. EEA migrants were more likely to be receiving tax credits if they were women, had children, or were working part time.

EEA migrants who have been in the country for less than four years are less likely to be receiving benefits than people who have been in the country for longer. In 2015, 19% of recently arrived EEA migrants reported receiving a state benefit in their own right, a share that falls to 13% if child benefit is excluded.

These figures are significantly lower than the estimate produced by the government last year, which stated that, in March 2013, “between 37 per cent and 45 per cent of the EEA nationals (excluding students) who were resident in the UK having arrived in the preceding four years were in households claiming either an in-work or out of-work benefit or tax credit.”

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “Looking at reliance on welfare benefits overall, migrants from EU countries are actually not very different to people born in the UK. EU migrants are more likely to be working, and so use in-work benefits more than out-of-work ones, but the differences are not dramatic.”

Reducing access to UK welfare benefits for EU migrants was a key part of the government’s renegotiation of the terms of EU membership earlier this year. If the UK votes to remain in the EU, it is expected to introduce new restrictions on in-work benefits for newly arriving EU citizens.

The Migration Observatory report shows that the impacts of these benefits restrictions would be concentrated on specific groups – particularly people with children. Although most EEA migrants do not have dependent children, over 90% of those reporting receiving tax credits in 2015 did have dependent children.

Ms Sumption added: “A large majority of recent EU migrants are not claiming benefits of any kind. That means that most migrants to the UK would not be affected by proposed changes to the welfare system. That said, some families with children would stand to lose several thousands in tax-credit income, and would still be considerably worse off even if higher minimum wages increase their incomes over the next few years.”

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