Opinion: Media misunderstanding on Lib Dem immigration policy

When will the BBC begin to do its job properly, and understand what it is talking about? I woke up yesterday to a news bulletin telling me that Nick Clegg was considering raising the time limit for someone from an EU country to claim benefits. It was suggested that it would be 6 months. It then ended by saying that the Liberal Democrats were now joining other parties in concern about EU migration.

Downstairs I picked up Policy Document 116, Making Migration Work for Britain. A quick check confirmed what we said. Here is our policy, worded exactly as it was written a year ago and agreed by the York Spring Conference in March 2014.

Preventing benefit misuse
A major public concern is that migrants come to the UK purposely to misuse the benefits system which, as a consequence, adds an extra burden onto the UK taxpayer. Whilst overall migrants put in more tax than they take out in benefits and public services, there are areas in the system that could, and should, be tightened up. We propose the following measures.
Extend the period EU Citizens have to wait before claiming UK benefits
As it stands, EU law guarantees that unemployed citizens who go and look for a job in another EU country will continue to receive unemployment benefits from their home country for a period of three months while they look for work. The EU Commission has proposed that this period can be extended to six months. This would save UK taxpayers from footing benefit bills for an EEA citizen for a further three months than is currently the case. Liberal Democrats support the EU Commission’s proposal to extend this period to 6 months

Lazy reporting like this gives out the wrong signals to the public, making it sounds as though we are slowly catching up with others. Maybe we should make a present to the BBC of our policy documents – and make sure the read them before breakfast?

* Suzanne Fletcher was a councillor for nearly 30 years and a voluntary advice worker with the CAB for 40 years. Now retired, she is active as a campaigner in the community both as a Lib Dem and with local organisations. She is Liberal Democrat Seekers of Sanctuary's parliamentary and external relations officer.

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17 Comments

  • I actually think we should treat all people in the UK equally whether from the EU or anywhere else, including providing access to benefits within a month or so of arriving. Everyone deserves to be treated equally once here – do we want a two-tier society? I think denying benefits for six months is a bit of a smokescreen. Any possible limit to numbers coming to the UK should purely be on an evidence-based assessment of there being adequate access to, housing and GP services. Maybe John Major’s temporary halt in EU migrants is an answer if we are hitting problems, but equal treatment should be a basic principle.

  • Richard Dean 27th Nov '14 - 10:45am

    I suspect you need to provide reporters with the exact sentences that they can use in their reports. Being from the BBC no longer guarantees either accuracy or lack of bias, if it ever did.

    You may also need to brush up on your own reporting style. In this piece, there is a sentence which starts “Lazy reporting like this” . The reader is thus confronted with the question of what “this” is, and the most obvious answer seems to be the thing that has just been highlighted – i.e the LibDem policy from York 2014!

    That policy document itself is confusing too, for a speed reader. It’s argumentative and too long. All it really says is that LibDems propose that jobseekers should receive benefits from their home country while they look for work in another EU country, for up to six months.

    Arguably, what the LibDems should have added is that, if an EU jobseeker can’t find work in another EU country after that six month period, then he or she should recognize the futility of the task, and return home. The implication would be that the country where a job were sought would not have to pay any benefits at all to the foreign national.

    Such a policy would then provide a nice stepping stone to a policy in which government is given a duty to provide work for any citizen jobseeker who has not found work after a period of six months of genuine searching.

  • I agree with Richard, the policy is poorly structured and presented. I would rework it thus:

    Policy: Extend the period EU Citizens have to wait before claiming UK benefits to 6 months.
    Rationale: This is in accordance with EU Commissions proposals.

    A major public concern is that migrants come to the UK purposely to misuse the benefits system which, as a consequence, adds an extra burden onto the UK taxpayer. Whilst overall migrants put in more tax than they take out in benefits and public services, there are areas in the system that could, and should, be tightened up.

    As it stands, EU law guarantees that unemployed citizens who go and look for a job in another EU country will continue to receive unemployment benefits from their home country for a period of three months while they look for work. The EU Commission has proposed that this period can be extended to six months. This would save UK taxpayers from footing benefit bills for an EEA citizen for a further three months than is currently the case.

  • See you political class again trying to narrow the concerns of immigration to benefit claiming. I can assure you this don’t wash our concerns yes are benefit claiming but more so the shear numbers coming into the UK. The stress strains and job taking from own people. You say we not the skills so we need immigrants who’s fault we not got the skill’s who controls education YOU the political class are to blame as sure as the terrorist threat is down to you the political class. We are not the sheep you think we are as you will see come election

  • Given that the same line was being repeated across the media, I think the issue is more with the party’s press team than the media. It feels like they were spinning this line and the media are reporting that, not that the media are misrepresenting things.

  • @ Suzanne Fletcher
    I think you made a huge mistaken assumption – that Nick Clegg is talking about the policy we passed in York in March 2014. I don’t think he was. From an article here yesterday – “LibLink: Nick Clegg – ensure there is no benefit abuse while retaining free labour movement”
    https://www.libdemvoice.org/liblink-nick-clegg-how-to-tackle-immigration-without-risking-the-economy-43526.html
    it can be seen that Nick Clegg is making up new policy that includes restrictions for in-work benefits. So yes he is addressing one of the concerns of most people regarding migration. And about time too.

    We need a policy that supports free labour movement, while addressing all of the concerns that the majority of British people have regarding this huge amount of immigration. Benefits is one. Our policy also talks about giving local government £1 billion a year to address the extra demand for local services caused by this immigration. Our policy talks about relatives of elderly immigrations having to provide money to pay for all of the extra services that the elderly relative will need for the rest of their life while in the UK. Our policy talks about tackling low pay and skill shortage. It doesn’t say how and how much we will spend to do it. We also talk about getting 300,000 new homes built a year, we should look to see if this needs to be increased to meet the extra demand caused by immigration. (We also need to keep telling the public that only about 7% of the land has been built on so building more houses will not destroy the countryside.)

  • tez
    The education is there if you want it.Plenty of evening classes, public libraries where people can borrow books for free and you can buy any newspaper you want-try reading the Guardian or even the Morning Star if you wish.
    From outside the EU immigretion is restricted.Within the EU there is freedeom of movement but remember many Britons live and work in other EU countries.

  • Judy Abel
    British people who have been resident abroad outside the EU and return to Britain are not given access to all benefits.
    I am not complaining.It is better to be in employment abroad than be unemployed in Britain.

  • Nonconformistradical 27th Nov '14 - 7:26pm

    @tez

    I wouldn’t necessarily dispute that access to the best schools and universities is biased towards those with money and the right connections – although perhaps also towards parents who place particular importance on the education of their children. Among the children of our country for whom I feel most sorry are those whose parents apparently couldn’t give a toss about the importance and value of their education.

    How much effort did you put in to whatever level of education you have received? I’m far from impressed by the standard of English in your posting and the ability to communicate clearly is fundamental to a large proportion of jobs these days.

    If you were completing an application form for a job and used that standard of English on it, why would you expect it to go any further than the office shredder?

    Could it be that all those immigrants might have higher levels of commitment to learning and improving themselves , thus making themselves more employable, than you might have?

  • Well at least Tez now knows that being polite is not part of LibDem members concern when they disagree with someone. If Tez felt some disagreement with you on imigration but thought all your other goals really met his hopes for the country would you blame him if he votes for someone else in 2015

  • Tez
    “Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”
    As I said get to the library.

  • Steve Coltman 29th Nov '14 - 12:28pm

    I am sorry but Suzanne’s article is a bit like rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic – it really misses the point. The British people do not want net immigration running at a quarter of a million a year, indefinitely. The consequences long term are a massive increase in the overall population (bear in mind many immigrants are young and yet to have children).
    Amalric’s comment about “only about 7% of the land has been built on so building more houses will not destroy the countryside” is laughable – the effect on the countryside that many of us love will be huge.
    Ultimately this is an issue of democracy. Immigration on this scale is having, and will have, a profound effect on this country (England especially) socially, economically, politically and environmentally. But the political classes do not have any kind of mandate for this, nor are they likely to get one (which is why they have never asked). I am sorry to say this but one thing absent from Lib Dem immigration policy is any kind of serious effort to limit numbers. So what is Lib Dem policy? Do we really believe in unlimited immigration, and to hell with the consequences (whatever they may be?). I doubt if the ordinary rank-and-file members of the party believe this, but official Lib Dem policy does not necessarily reflect what the members think (another democracy issue).
    Immigration is the No.1 political issue, and for good reason. If we simply ignore the wishes of the people on this matter we will reap the consequences next May

  • @ Steve Coltman

    I don’t understand why saying that we could build more houses is “laughable”. 93% of the land in the UK is countryside. If we had 250,000 immigrants arrive every year for the next 20 years the extra population would be 5 million. At the moment we house 70 million people on 7% of the land, therefore the extra land needed would be only 0.71% assuming that we don’t increase the density of homes. The idea that building on 0.71% of the land will have a huge effect on the countryside is laughable.

    I agree we should not say “to hell with the consequences” and that is why I am advocating building more than 300,000 homes a year, my most recent estimate of the right number is 440,000 new homes a year. I advocate not paying in-work benefits to immigrants until they have earned more than £19,700 a year for 24 months (and I wouldn’t oppose it being four years). I have pointed out our policy aim to increase training to make people more competitive with immigrant workers. I have pointed out our policy aim to increase wages and we have some commitment to encouraging companies to pay the living wage and I would like us to be committed to restoring the minimum wage to its 2007 real value and increase it above this and above annual inflation.

    Immigration is an important political issue, but I am not sure that the people of the UK want all the immigrants here to be expelled. I think they want the problems that having these immigrants here addressed, be it the difficulty in getting a well-paid job, getting a home, or getting their child in the school of their choice.

  • Steve Coltman 30th Nov '14 - 11:30am

    “93% of the UK is countryside” – it’s not that simple. The overwhelming majority of the population is in England, and the overwhelming majority of the immigrants settle in England, and England is barely half the land area. Furthermore, much of England is hills, moorland and other terrain where few people live or would want to live. Much of what remains of England’s most attractive countryside is under siege from developers who have no interest in building on brownfield sites. they want the most attractive open countryside, it suits them best. And you don’t have to develop 100% of an area of land to destroy its beauty and tranquility. This is an issue which you either care about or don’t, and it is quite clear there are a few in the Lib Dems who are careless about trashing the environment that we actually live in.
    This however, is not the major point. The point is that the government is pursuing an immigration policy that the people do not agree with, and this party is espousing an immigration policy that I suspect the members do not support. Do we believe in democracy or don’t we? If we don’t , why should anyone vote for us?

  • Steve Coltman 30th Nov ’14 – 11:30am
    “….much of England is hills, moorland and other terrain where few people live or would want to live.”

    Errrr hang on a second, if I were to list all the densely populated cities in England that we’re built on “hills, moorland or other terrain” it would be a very longlist and probably account for more than half of the population of England.

    As far as I recall we have very few people in England living in floating homes. Where else is there that is not built on “hills, moorland or other terrain”?

  • @ Steve Coltman
    Sid Cumberland in another thread – https://www.libdemvoice.org/the-independent-view-what-do-the-public-want-on-migration-43542.html#comments posted a link giving the figures for the amount of land built on in England, Wales, Scotland and Britain – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18623096. The experts state that the urbanised areas are: England – 10.6%, Scotland – 1.9%, Northern Ireland – 3.6% and Wales – 4.1%. The figures are smaller if the green areas such as parks, allotments and sport pitches are removed. England is the largest part of the UK being 50,346 sq mi of the UK total of 94,060 sq mi. As you said just over half the area – 53.5%. Therefore 0.71% of the UK’s area is 1.32% of England’s area. Again this is not a huge amount of the countryside. Perhaps you don’t really mean countryside. Perhaps you mean farmland but that is 70% of the UK’s land. Perhaps you mean arable land rather than land used to rear animals and that is 25% of the total. Therefore if all the land used was arable it would be less than a twenty-fifth of the arable land and I don’t think anyone would class 4% as a huge amount. It is my understanding that planning authorities can’t allow homes to be built on sites of special scientific interest and the top three grades of agricultural land have protection from development.

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