Conditionality and rights and responsibilities of migrants

November 6, 2014     Leave a Comment

In the next of our series of blogs highlighting the project’s briefing papers, Peter Dwyer and Lisa Scullion examine attitudes to migration and conditionality in the UK.

Migration, it seems, is never far from the minds of politicians and the public alike. Only last week the government minister Michael Fallon spoke of certain towns being “under siege, [with] large numbers of migrant workers and people claiming benefits”. Although he has since apologised for his remarks, and accepted he should have used less emotive language, the rights and responsibilities of migrants who enter the UK to live and work and the impact that migration may have remain subject to contentious debate.

Rhetorically at least, the current UK government, in line with its New Labour predecessors, is keen to emphasise its ability to control immigration into the UK. In the past two decades UK immigration and asylum policy has strengthened the long-established link between immigration status and the widely divergent rights to residence, work and welfare available to different migrants. The rights of Third Country National migrants to enter the UK from countries beyond Europe are now subject to strict rules and quotas. More recently the Coalition government has expressed growing concerns about European Economic Area (EEA) migrants who have exercised their rights to free movement and entered the UK in significant numbers as the EU has expanded since 2004. Recent policy initiatives seek to restrict such migrants’ access to benefits. These include a ‘stronger and more robust’ application of the Habitual Residence Test and amended regulations which introduce a ‘Genuine Prospect of Work Test’. This aims to curtail unemployed EEA migrants’ right to claim Jobseekers’ Allowance to a maximum period of six months unless they can provide ‘compelling evidence’ that they have a genuine prospect of finding future employment.

Against this kind of policy backdrop our briefing paper on Conditionality and Migrants authored by Peter Dwyer and Lisa Scullion looks at how immigration and welfare policy come together in complex ways to structure and constrain migrants’ rights to residence, work and welfare in the UK. Those who advocate further restrictions on entitlement and increased conditionality for migrants often cite the need to retain national sovereignty over immigration policy in order to prevent ‘benefit tourism’ by migrants looking to abuse welfare systems. Proponents of such arguments view migrants as an added burden on increasingly stretched welfare budgets. Counter arguments have been made by others who state that the long term contributions of migrants routinely outweigh their costs to the welfare system. However, empirical evidence to settle the argument one way or another remains hotly disputed by those on opposing sides.

Why do debates about the legitimacy of migrants’ claims to collective welfare benefits and services matter? Well, they matter because current policy direction and the tone of the debate problematises the presence of new migrants and, arguably, by association the rights and presence of many Black and Minority Ethnic communities whose members are established UK citizens. Welfare conditionality in a broad sense (i.e. the ways in eligibility criteria linked to a specific state-assigned immigration status set out specific individual rights to reside, work and access welfare benefits and services) severely constrains many migrants’ ability to contribute to UK society through paid work and/or to call upon welfare rights to meet basic human needs as situations change. More narrowly, the shift towards a welfare state centred on behavioural conditionality, in which certain basic, publicly provided, welfare entitlements become dependent on an individual first agreeing to meet particular compulsory duties or patterns of responsible behaviour, is also relevant. The limited evidence available suggests that discriminatory and racialised attitudes may be significant in influencing both higher levels of sanction and lower quality of support among migrants (and Black and Minority Ethnic citizens more generally). Moving forward we intend to explore the ways in which international migration and ethnicity may mediate the effects of conditionality and how sanctions and support play out in migrants’ lives as this remains an under-researched area.

Peter Dwyer and Lisa Scullion November 2014

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