Some people believe that EU migrant workers come to the UK in order to claim benefits, or to work in jobs that are low paid so that they can claim benefits like tax credits that can be sent back to their families at home elsewhere in Europe. Some other people believe that EU migrant workers ‘take’ jobs from UK workers and undercut wages and other labour standards. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, takes the view that EU migration to the UK is inflating the costs of social security and burdening over-stretched public services. He is currently seeking changes to the EU Treaty rules on free movement as part of his negotiations with the EU prior to the UK’s referendum about EU membership, which is expected to take place later this year.
Throughout 2016, we will be exploring the experiences of people who come to work in the UK from other EU Member States. Our aim is to gather robust empirical evidence about EU migrants' experiences of finding work and being in employment in the UK, as well as exploring EU migrant workers’ use of social security, particularly in situations where a person cannot find work or his or her pay is sufficiently low that it needs to be supplemented.
This research project will examine:
- law: what are EU migrant workers entitled to under EU and UK law?
- practice: how many EU migrants claim benefits; what benefits do they claim and obtain; and what happens if they are turned down for benefits?
- experience: what is it like being an EU migrant coming to the UK; what obstacles do migrants face and what are their hopes and expectations; what do they do to look for work and what use do they make of benefits; what help and support do migrants receive and from whom?
We will be interviewing migrant workers and spending time with organisations that work with migrant workers and businesses that employ them. We will also be holding focus groups and discussion events. We hope to be able to follow a small group of migrant workers and document on film their experiences of arriving in the UK and navigating the labour market and social security system. We will provide a larger group of migrant workers with cameras to capture their experiences on film. Alongside this work with migrant workers we will be exploring decisions of the Social Entitlement Chamber of the Upper Tier Tribunal to examine how many cases are brought by EU migrant workers, what those cases are about and how successful migrant workers are before tribunals.
By combining this insight with knowledge about the law in this field, we hope to shed new light on the big question of how we adequately regulate migration within a socio-economically diverse EU and a post-financial crisis context. This question is central to Brexit and to the outcome of the UK ’s referendum on EU membership on 23 June 2016. We hope that this research project will help to inform public debate in advance of this momentous event.