Who are the real benefit scroungers? It might be the UK

Some anti-immigration parties might be in for a shock this week when they discover that UK citizens are claiming more unemployment benefits in some European countries, than those countries’ citizens are claiming in the UK. It exposes the harsh truth that Britain can be a bit of an immigration burden as well.

A report by the Guardian compares numbers of those claiming unemployment related benefits in all of the European member states to the numbers of Europeans claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance. It demonstrated that four times as many Britons claim benefits in Germany than Germans in the UK, and five times as many in Ireland.

Having said that, the report does somewhat vindicate the immigration concerns of the masses by revealing that 14,800 Poles, 6,690 Slovakians and 4,080 Lithuanians claim unemployment benefits in the UK, compared to just seven Britons across all three countries.

However, as a wise man once said, there are “lies, damned lies and statistics” and, depending which side of the political spectrum you stand on, the statistics can be interpreted in different ways. The Telegraph claims that there are “twice as many EU immigrants claiming unemployment benefits in the UK than vice versa”, which is technically true as 29,095 Brits claim abroad, compared to 64,830 Europeans in Britain. But relatively, this stands at a similar proportion of population – around 2.5% – and therefore does not represent the wave of benefit tourism that leaves UKIP et al. shaking in their hunter wellies.

“As a wise man once said, there are ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ and, depending which side of the political spectrum you stand on, the statistics can be interpreted in different ways.”

I am not pro-open door immigration, and I agree with the majority of voters who say that immigration is a major concern at the general election. I am saying, however, that immigration is a much more complex picture than the simple portrait painted by the press of the UK as the benefits capital of Europe. In my opinion, what these statistics actually represent is the drastic European East/West divide, and how Europe as a whole needs to work to improve the economic situation in Poland, Lithuania and Slovakia, in order to reduce the need for labour migration. Prevention, as always, is better than cure.

Unemployment benefits are not the only burden that immigration places on the state. Health systems are also buckling under the pressure of increased demand. The NHS has its difficulties. But so do other European states. This is particularly significant in Spain because of the demographic and proportion of Britons who live there.

Immigration is affecting our country in both positive and negative ways. For now, however, a closed door on immigration cannot magically solve all Britain’s problems. We must all remember not to take statistics at face value, for they provide much manoeuvrability for spin doctors to make political points. It is clear to see, nevertheless, that we are not alone in facing the burden of those who are unemployed.

Rachel Lewis

Image from Little Britain via

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