Iain Duncan SmithDavid Jones/PA Wire

The government is hard at work, coming up with ways to ensure that migrants from the European Union don't travel to the UK just to claim benefits. Iain Duncan Smith has laid out some of the options - including plans to refuse out-of-work benefits to any migrants who have not lived in the UK for a year.

So why are they coming up with these ideas, and will they ever fly?


Why?

The issue first came up when David Cameron said last week that the system was going to change so that the UK wasn't seen as a 'soft touch'. At that point there was speculation that it could mean reforming access to healthcare and benefits.

It came hot on the heels of the publishing of government figures that showed that 371,000 migrants claimed working-age benefits last year - making up 6.4% of all claimants.

It's thought that the toughening-up of the rules is intended to coincide with lifting of restrictions on EU migrants from Romania and Bulgaria in 2014. The government is refusing to be drawn into a debate over how it is likely to affect immigration, but Migration Watch UK has estimated that 50,000 people could come to the UK in the first year alone.

Restrictions

Duncan Smith was speaking to the Andrew Marr show. He said he was looking into the "habitual residency test", which establishes the minimum amount of time a migrant must live in the UK before they are able to claim benefits. He was also examining the rules around some benefits - so that migrants would have had to contribute to them for a minimum length of time before they could claim them. And he wanted to stop migrants claiming child benefit to send home to their children.

Migration Watch UK said last week that these payments were costing the UK £1 million a week, as 50,000 people worked in the UK and sent their payments home. Some 30,000 of the children concerned were living in Poland.

Duncan Smith was optimistic about being able to make these changes within existing EU rules, but he admits he will need to fight Europe on them. He said: "They're trying to say we don't have the right to have any kind of test, so that's a big battle that I'm having with the Europeans."

The Europeans, meanwhile, argue that the UK should follow the same rules as the rest of Europe. According to the Telegraph László Andor, the European commissioner for social affairs, has pointed out that Britain is the only member state requiring foreigners to pass a test to prove that they legally resided and paid taxes in the particular country.





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