David Cameron has promised to toughen up what he calls the UK’s “soft-touch” approach to welfare benefits in an attempt to cut immigration.
Speaking to students in Ipswich he said: “Net migration (to the UK) needs to come down radically from hundreds of thousands a year to just tens of thousands.”
His stricter stance on immigration comes as public opinion has been shown to be hardening; elements of the right-wing press have warned of “hordes” of migrants will seek to move the UK, particularly from Romania and Bulgaria once restrictions on their citizens’ right to work are lifted next year.
The recent good by-election performance of the UKIP party, which opposes what it considers to be an “open door” policy on immigration, has served as a warning to mainstream parties that immigration will be a hot topic in the 2015 general election.
Among new measures Cameron announced is a five-year waiting period for social housing that will apply to all citizens from the European Economic Area (EEA- the 27 EU states plus Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein). They will also be subject to stricter “reciprocal charging” requirements when using the National Health Service, meaning that their own governments will be footing the bill.
Unemployment benefit payments to EEA citizens will be stopped after six months if those receiving the payments can not prove they have a genuine chance of getting a job. Newcomers to the UK would also face tougher tests to evaluate whether they are eligible for welfare benefits.
Fines for anyone employing illegal immigrants would be doubled, while landlords who allow illegal immigrants to rent their properties could also face fines.
“Put simply, when it comes to illegal migrants, we’re rolling up that red carpet… and showing them the door,” said Cameron.
In Brussels, a European Commission spokesman said that any new measures would have to be approved by the Commission. Cameron said he would meet any challenge from Brussels “very robustly”.
Cameron added that concerns over the pressure caused by immigration on public services in an age of austerity were “not just legitimate, they are right and it is the fundamental duty of every mainstream politician to address them”.