Immigration: 87% of Lib Dem members back free movement of EU people; but 65% also support benefit restrictions for EU migrants

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 750 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

87% of Lib Dems support the free movement of EU citizens

Overall, do you support or oppose the right of people in EU countries to live and work wherever they want?

    87% – Support
    6% – Oppose
    1% – Don’t know
    5% – Other

An overwhelming proportion (87%) of Lib Dem members support the right of people in EU countries to live and work wherever they want. Just 6% are opposed, according to our survey; though many of the 5% who selected ‘Other’ supported the free movement of people within the EU conditionally, either through quotas or restrictions of access to benefits. Lib Dem enthusiasm contrasts with the general public’s views – when this same question was recently asked, just 38% of Brits supported the right of people in EU countries to live and work wherever they want, compared to 49% who opposed it.

Two-thirds support restricting benefits for migrants

Do you support or oppose stopping migrants from the European Union from claiming out-of-work benefits unless they have lived in Britain for at least three months?

    65% – Support
    23% – Oppose
    6% – Don’t know
    6% – Other

Two-thirds (65%) of Lib Dem members support the Coalition’s proposals to stop migrants from the European Union from claiming out-of-work benefits unless they have lived in Britain for at least three months. Just under one-quarter of members oppose the move, which was announced by David Cameron announced in one of his latest crackdowns in November in an attempt to reassure the public that he has the immigration issue under control.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 749 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 14th and 18th December.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    23 Comments

    • Joshua Dixon 6th Jan '14 - 10:48am

      I’m gonna try not to swear. But I cant believe a majority of you are that vile.

    • Andrew Martin 6th Jan '14 - 10:51am

      @Joshua Dixon how are the majority being “that vile”?

    • Surprised at the support for benefit restrictions. But I can’t say I am overly offended by that. Its clear that we are a party that supports free movement of peoples still.

    • Here’s the BBC on a report published by the European Commission last October:
      “But taking the available data, the report’s authors concluded that “considering all unemployment benefits… the UK is the only EU member state where there were less beneficiaries among EU migrants (1%) than among nationals (4%).”
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25127344

      Here’s Vince Cable last month:
      “The responsibility of politicians in this situation is to look at the facts and the simple point is that there is very little evidence of benefit tourism for people coming from Eastern Europe.
      “All the evidence suggests that they put far more into the economy in terms of tax than they take out in benefits.””

      http://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/immigration-cap-is-not-going-to-happen-insists-business-secretary-vince-cable-9020929.html

      So we’re penalising migrants who are genuinely seeking work – which will be of net benefit to this country – in order to combat a problem whose very existence is doubtful. But politicians think it will benefit them electoral to appear ‘tough’ – even if that harms the country. And the remaining membership of the Lib Dems is backing them up.

    • jedibeeftrix 6th Jan '14 - 12:33pm

      please elaborate Joshua…

    • I was under the impression that the benefit restrictions, merely brought the UK into line with other EU nations – hence why wouldn’t they be supported?

      The challenge we have around benefits and the free movement of people, is that currently there is no EU wide pot for paying out benefits etc.; the costs fall wholly on the individual nations.

    • Roland

      Rather than relying on your ‘impression’, you can find some facts here:
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25134521

      As to “why wouldn’t they be supported”, well, if migrant workers benefit the UK financially, surely the question to be asked is why would these restrictions be supported, if they tend to discourage migrant workers. Or is that too rational a viewpoint?

    • Simon

      No.

    • Chris – thanks for the link, although the article does present a few facts it is a rather “light weight” treatment of the issue and seems to imply that whilst the UK’s additional “right to reside” test is currently being disputed, the 3 month benefits qualifier is not out of line with other EU nations etc. But then a quick web search does indicate that few details and facts have been collated and made readily accessible to the public.

      The question of whether the restrictions discourage migrant workers really has two parts to it. The first part is taking the measure at face value, I suggest that the only group of people who stand to loose are those who cannot financially support themselves whilst looking for work, namely those who either don’t have independent means and/or are not entitled to benefits in their home country. I would be interested to know just what the real financial benefit of such workers is to the UK economy – I suspect very little, particularly given the current levels of unemployment and economic inactivity among UK residents. The second part revolves around how this story has been run by the media in other EU countries, which is something we don’t get any substantive feedback on.

    • This poll is fabulous and underlines our unique selling points. I have always been a passionate devotee of the EU and I am just so thrilled that so many of us are in harmony and so enthusiastically support free movement of people and open borders. We need more EU, not less in my opinion and I think we should be campaigning harder for the UK to become part of the Schengen Area so that we can abolish archaic passport and immigration controls at our borders. I am convinced that this poll will do a great deal to sway the voters in 2014 and 2015. It will be one in the eye for the likes of Nigel Farage and the anti-immigration mob methinks.

    • Roland

      thanks for the link, although the article does present a few facts it is a rather “light weight” treatment of the issue and seems to imply that whilst the UK’s additional “right to reside” test is currently being disputed, the 3 month benefits qualifier is not out of line with other EU nations etc.

      Well, I think it will be fairly obvious to most people that if these changes had simply been a matter of “[bringing] the UK into line with other EU nations”, as you claimed, the European Commission would not have referred them to the European Court of Justice.

    • @Rebecca
      Good points and I particularly like the humour in point 6.

    • Migrants to the UK boost the economy, for example over 1.2 million Poles work here now who arrived since 2002. The more people who come the better it is for our GDP. Surely we should actually be encouraging people to come here and take a chance at finding a job, rather than restricting them from claiming benefits for 3 months and forcing them to weigh up carefully whether to come or not.

      So I propose giving each migrant an arrival grant, which would help them to settle down, cover their living expenses, and gives them a chance to say buy an inexpensive second hand car to help their mobility when job hunting. Maybe a figure of £1000 or £2000 could be considered. Of course it would need to come out of general taxation, but it is far better for the money to be put back into circulation rather than sitting in peoples bank accounts earning close to zero interest, and not doing anything for the economy at all.

      Maybe this is somewhat an out of the box thought. We do need some radical ideas because our current ideas are getting stale. If we do believe that immigrant workers boost the economy, which pretty clearly they do, then we should be encouraging even more of them to come. Would be interested in your comments for and against.

      I was a bit shocked to be honest to see that 65% of our members support benefit restrictions. Have they been brainwashed by far right Tories?

    • Jayne Mansfield 6th Jan '14 - 9:32pm

      @ Rebecca Taylor

      Another great post acting as an antidote and counter balance to the panic and myths that has been peddled by the right wing press and Nigel Farage.( What a pity he wasn’t standing alongside Keith Vaz when it would have been easier finding Wally than a Romanian or a Bulgarian).

      Point 6. Masterstroke. In fact given that the coalition want to further reduce welfare spending and I am told that the largest element of welfare spending/ social security (42%) goes on pensioners like myself, why not put us all to work in the NHS to fill the gap. There must be a manual we could work to.

    • I am a British migrant in Slovakia. If I heard a discussion on whether “the English” were a net benefit to Slovakia, along the lines of “yes, we do have the occasional stag-weekend urinating in the fountain but look Richard S is here running a business and employing people”, then I would be somewhat insulted to be treated as part of one amorphous group just on the basis of my nationality.

      I don’t see then, why it is acceptable to do some kind of consolidated accounts to see if an entity called Johnny Foreigner is a net benefit or not, rather than looking at the different groups involved and setting up fair and sensible rules for all of them.

    • “I don’t see then, why it is acceptable to do some kind of consolidated accounts to see if an entity called Johnny Foreigner is a net benefit or not, rather than looking at the different groups involved and setting up fair and sensible rules for all of them.”

      Ye Gods! You mean you’re unhappy with the conclusion that EU migrant workers as a whole are beneficial, and you’d like to analyse the “different groups” involved, presumably with the object of identifying some undesirable categories of foreigners?

      Of course, given the fact I’m no longer a Lib Dem supporter, I realise that you may not be either. I certainly hope you aren’t!

    • Robert Wootton 8th Jan '14 - 8:46am

      On Radio Devon yesterday, a listener phoned in to say that he lived and worked in Spain for a number of years and became a Spanish citizen or legal resident. He stated that under Spanish law, he would not be entitled to claim any benefits until he had lived in the country for TEN years!

      It seems to me that what is needed is EU legislation that requires migrants to obtain a work permit from the embassy of the country the citizen wants to work in; and possibly the name of the employer the person will be working for.

      Regarding benefits, the EU legislation could also state that no benefits could be claimed for FIVE years (or ten years).Alternatively, the migrant worker could claim benefits that (s)he would be entitled to in their home country. The total amount claimed could then be deducted from EU contribution of the country paying the benefit.

      The removal of the immediate and automatic entitlement to benefits throughout the EU would discourage migrants that are benefit rather than job seekers.

      People who arrive in a country without a Work Permit could automatically be sent back to their country of origin.
      The number of work permits issued by embassies and the type of work being sort by the migrant would make the monitoring of migration by governments easier. Criminals who have convictions that are not “spent” could be refused work permits.

      These proposals would deal with future economic migrants.
      They do not answer the plight of the victims of sex slave traffickers. However, if the victims were given the right to a work permit and this was publicised on social media, it just might loosen the grip the criminal gangs have on their victims.

    • @Chris,
      The undesirable category is the small minority of benefit tourists. The fact that someone from country X is working and paying into our system isn’t a reason why another person from country X should be able to come and claim benefits. Try applying for benefit in Eastern Europe as a foreigner without ever having paid in and see how far you get, they don’t import social problems from other countries and neither should we.

      You perhaps don’t realise that actually allowing this to happen would lead to a race to the bottom with countries striving not to be the most generous providers of benefits.

    • Richard S

      Well, if all you mean is that the rules should prevent people from claiming benefits if they’re not genuinely seeking work, no one is going to disagree. But of course that’s what the rules already say!

      What’s being proposed now, in case you didn’t realise, is a blanket withdrawal of benefits, regardless of whether people are genuinely seeking work.

    • @Chris,

      No, the rules say that someone should be habitually resident in the UK to claim benefits. It is unfortunate that the caseworkers need it clarifying that this doesn’t include people who arrived in the last 3 months but apparently they do.

    • Richard S

      You’re wrong. The habitual residence test has not hitherto required people to have been in the country for any minimum period. The only requirements have been right to reside and intention to settle.

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