David Cameron’s much-trailed diatribe against migrants is taking the shape of something else. He declares: “We cannot have a culture of something for nothing.” He is proposing time-limiting benefits for EU migrants – which cannot be done legally without time-limiting benefits for UK residents as well. He declaims: “as a migrant, we’re only going to give you six months to be a jobseeker. After that benefits will be cut off unless you really can prove not just that you are genuinely seeking employment but also that you have a genuine chance of getting a job.” No evidence has been given to suggest that people are coming to the UK to claim long-term-benefits; quite the reverse, because migrants are far less likely than others to claim anything at all. (The benefit they are most likely to receive is Child Benefit, because that is also a tax allowance.) However, if Cameron has his way, this reform will introduce time limits to income maintenance benefits, and the Vulcan tendency in the Conservative party has been pushing for time-limited benefits for years. This seems to have more to do with that policy than anything to do with migration.
Time limits would have only a limited effect on unemployment in Britain, unless the periods were very short indeed; nine of out of ten unemployed people are back at work within a year, small numbers (less than 1 in 25) for more than two years and and hardly any are unemployed for as many as five years. But they would have a devastating effect on long-term support for disability and incapacity, because those are the people most likely to need long-term support before they reach retirement age.