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New guide to data on EU migrants’ use of welfare benefits (Pre-referendum)

04 May 2016

A comprehensive guide to data on EU migrants and welfare has been published today by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, to inform the public debate in the run-up to the EU referendum.

The report, Migration, Welfare Benefits and EU Membership, provides updated statistics on welfare use by people born in EEA countries for 2015. It shows that working age adults from these countries are slightly less likely be receiving state benefits than the UK born.

The benefit most commonly claimed by people from EEA countries in 2015 was tax credits, which are usually received in work. EEA migrants were more likely to be receiving tax credits if they were women, had children, or were working part time.

EEA migrants who have been in the country for less than 4 years are less likely to be receiving benefits than people who have been in the country for longer. In 2015, 19% of recently arrived EEA migrants reported receiving a state benefit in their own right, a share that falls to 13% if child benefit is excluded.

These figures are significantly lower than the estimate produced by the government last year, which stated that, in March 2013, “between 37 per cent and 45 per cent of the EEA nationals (excluding students) who were resident in the UK having arrived in the preceding 4 years were in households claiming either an in-work or out of-work benefit or tax credit.”

The Migration Observatory figures are taken from a different data source – the Labour Force Survey – which is widely used for analysis of benefits receipt but is thought to undercount the number of claimants. However, this is not the only reason that the estimates are significantly lower than figures published by the government last year.

The other reasons that the government’s estimate was higher include:

  • First, the Migration Observatory data are for 2015, while the government’s estimate was for March 2013 when the UK’s economic situation was less positive and a larger share of people in the UK were receiving benefits.
  • Second, the government’s data included children in households where benefits were being claimed – they are excluded from the Migration Observatory analysis because they are not benefit claimants in their own right.
  • Third, the government’s estimate combined two different data sources that are not directly comparable, a methodology that may produce an overestimate.

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “Looking at reliance on welfare benefits overall, migrants from EU countries are actually not very different to people born in the UK. EU migrants are more likely to be working, and so use in-work benefits more than out-of-work ones, but the differences are not dramatic.”

Reducing access to UK welfare benefits for EU migrants was a key part of the government’s renegotiation of the terms of EU membership earlier this year. If the UK votes to remain in the EU, it is expected to introduce new restrictions on in-work benefits for newly arriving EU citizens.

The Migration Observatory report shows that the impacts of these benefits restrictions would be concentrated on specific groups – particularly people with children. Although most EEA migrants do not have dependent children, over 90% of those reporting receiving tax credits in 2015 did have dependent children.

Sumption added: “A large majority of recent EU migrants are not claiming benefits of any kind. That means that most migrants to the UK would not be affected by proposed changes to the welfare system. That said, some families with children would stand to lose several thousands in tax-credit income, and would still be considerably worse off even if higher minimum wages increase their incomes over the next few years.”

The report also shows that entitlements for in-work benefits for some family types could be eliminated even without the proposed restrictions due to the proposed increases in minimum wages for people age 25 and above.


For further information contact:
Mikal Mast, PR and Communications Officer, The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.
e: Mikal.Mast@compas.ox.ac.uk;  Tel: 01865 284900;  Mob: 07906 810983

About the Migration Observatory

  • Based at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford, the Migration Observatory provides independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK, to inform media, public and policy debates, and to generate high quality research on international migration and public policy issues. The Observatory’s analysis involves experts from a wide range of disciplines and departments at the University of Oxford.
  • The Migration Observatory is funded by: the Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Unbound Philanthropy, and has also received support from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
  • The Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford conducts high quality research in order to develop theory and knowledge, inform policy-making and public debate, and engage users of research within the field of migration. For further details see the COMPAS website: www.compas.ox.ac.uk/

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