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Benefit Tourism

Volume 587: debated on Monday 3 November 2014

My Ministers, officials, and I are in regular dialogue with the European Commission and other member states about the co-ordination and reform of social security. The most recent meeting was at the October Employment and Social Policy Council.

The think-tank Open Europe today proposed that EU migrants’ eligibility for in-work benefits and out-of-work benefits be restricted for the first three years. Are my right hon. Friend’s EU counterparts in northern Europe sympathetic to such views?

Although I have not read the report, Open Europe has stated what we are already discussing with Ministers of many of the other countries concerned. They are all pretty much in agreement that the present system does not give them enough leeway, and there is a general sense that they want people to contribute more before they receive benefits. That is very much the tenor of the discussion, so what the think-tank writes is pretty much what I think is going to happen in Europe.

I thank the Minister for his decision to ensure that my constituents who fled Sierra Leone because of Ebola were able to claim benefits and were not affected by the habitual residence test. Will he therefore reinstate the old rule whereby people who were advised by British embassies and high commissions to come back to Britain will have the habitual residence rule waived?

The moment I heard the hon. Lady’s question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, I immediately said to the Department, “Let me have the news on this”, and I changed the policy on that specifically for Ebola. I am keeping the matter under review to look at whether it is necessary to make a wider exemption, depending on what the embassies say, and I will come back to her about that in due course. I was horrified to see what had happened to her constituents.