Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Get Us Our Money Back Mr Murphy!

It has emerged over recent days that more than £33 million a year in British child benefit is being paid to foreign children living abroad, an astonishing 72% increase over the past nine months. With most of this money going to around 36,000 children living in Poland, whose parents are cashing in on European rules that let them claim benefits in the UK after working and paying taxes here for a year, it is clear to me that the UK taxpayer is being taken for a ride and losing out once again as we abide by the rules while others EU nations prefer to ignore the rules they would prefer not to enforce.

I read with interest one report that Ministers have been "plunged into a new immigration row" by these figures. Is it any wonder when it emerges our government is frittering away our money to support families abroad only a matter of weeks after they tried to enforce a tax rises for low-income British families with their proposal to scrap the 10 pence income tax rate?

As he serves the UK government as Europe Minister, one can only presume Jim Murphy is one of the Ministers referred to by newspaper reports. He is surely the person we should hold responsible for negotiating with EU Countries for the return of British taxpayers money and for ensuring the European Union rules that allow this travesty to continue are closed off with immediate effect.

The British taxpayer started to pay for foreign children living abroad after EU enlargement in 2004, when 800,000 workers from the new member countries flooded to the UK as economic migrants. If media reports are to be believed, benefit claims escalated dramatically as word spread among Polish communities in Britain and Polish-language newspapers published guides on how to claim child benefit.

Our child benefit is so attractive because parents receive £977 a year for their first child and £652 per year for younger siblings. When compared to the £160 per year paid for each child in Poland it is easy to see why Polish immigrants to Britain find it so attractive to claim child benefit from the British taxpayer for children they have left at home.

Some may argue that EU rules on benefits are fair and balanced. I think EU rules that mean Britons working in Poland can only claim £160 from the Warsaw government are hardly fair and would like to see the net position in terms of the cost of Polish citizens to the British Exchequers compared to that of Britons living in Poland to the Polish equivalent to prove it is the UK who are shortchanged by the rules - once again!

Inevitably the story of abuse does not stop with child benefit. Even larger amounts are paid out to East European workers in child tax credits, but the Government is refusing to put a figure on what the cost of this additional burden is to the British taxpayer.

The communities of Eastern European origin that have grown across the UK since EU enlargement continue to play a vital role in filling skills shortages in the UK economy and add an exciting and vibrant element to our society. Those who move here with a sense of fairness and who are prepared to do what is right are very welcome, but those playing the system and taking benefit money for people residing outwith the UK are out of order and would do well to remember they are guest of the British people.

So come on Jim, actually do something for the people of your constituency and get the UK a fair set of rules to abide by in Europe as well as our money back. Just think what £33 million, plus the money being taken in child tax credits, could do towards eradicating child poverty in Britain today. I believe it is time we addressed fairness at home and abroad - I wonder whether Jim will agree!

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