Universal Credit, EU Migrants and Anti-Roma Racism

Back in 2016, I wrote this article for Bella Caledonia. David Cameron had just been defeated in the Brexit referendum and among other consequences this has resulted in a humiliating climb down on some very racist benefit reforms.
Cameron had wanted to ban EU migrants from claiming Jobseekers Allowance and restrict them from tax credits for the first 4 years of their stay. The plan was so extreme that it would have needed special permission from the EU. The plan had been used as a bargaining chip and would have formed part of the concessions offered to the UK, had Britain stayed.
In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, the joint institutions of the EU made a very clear statement to the effect that racist benefit cuts were off the table and the UK should just keep paying up as usual.
Cameron himself commented that: “I made a series of suggestions about welfare changes that will not now be coming in, and I am obviously sad about that.” The heart bleeds.
What I hadn’t quite realised at the time was that while all this was going on, the same benefit cuts were being quietly introduced through the backdoor.
The Universal Credit (EEA Jobseekers) Amendment Regulations were introduced in 2015 and removed the right to Universal Credit from EC jobseekers. As Universal Credit replaces Jobseekers Allowance, Child tax Credit and Housing Benefit this plunges EC migrants, this effectively sentences EC jobseekers and their families to complete destitution.
At the time Universal Credit was not particularly widespread. Even in areas where it was beginning to be introduced (“live service areas”), EC citizens were still being directed onto the older “legacy benefits”. It simply hadn’t made much of an impact on the ground. I suspect this is why the Tory’s have so far got away with it, arguably against EC law and certainly against the express directions of Europe.
Sadly this false sense of security is about to be shattered as Universal Credit has now reached Scotland with a vengeance. For EC jobseekers this will mean no access to benefits at all.
I was recently talking to a welfare rights officer in Govanhill who brought this to my attention. Govanhill is one of the poorer areas in Glasgow. It’s diverse population includes many EEA, including a large Roma community. As I covered in previous posts bashing the Roma has been the central motivation in racist benefit restrictions from the outset. This is going to hit Govanhill very hard. As it is intended to.
The irony is that while there’s still plenty of difficulties and tension, Govanhill is considered a beacon in Europe for the successful integration of Roma communities. This may come as a surprise to residents of Govanhill who are only too aware of the racial tensions in the area. But to put the situation in its proper context: the engrained marginalisation of the Roma community is so severe elsewhere in Europe that visiting dignitaries have been known to express surprise that Roma children in Glasgow attend school.
The local council and Scottish Government have put enormous effort and money into making this happen as well as tackling problems in Govanhill which effect all communities such as slum landlords and rubbish collection. Needless to say, national policies directed at immiserating one section of the population, very much hamper attempts at multiculturalism on the ground. A dignified standard of life really is the bedrock that community cohesion is built upon.
It should come as no surprise that anti-immigrant policies from Westminster are often damaging in a Scottish context. We’ve become used to the Home Office refusing leave to remain to people who want to fill a post in Gaelic medium education or run the only shop in a village. We can clearly see the clash between rural communities, desperately trying to repopulate and the London elite drawing up “shortage occupation lists” with no thoughts to what these communities actually need. Or even that they exist.
These racist benefit cuts show that Westminster’s anti-immigrant stance can be just as damaging in our cities.

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  1. Jim Ferguson says:

    This is an important and telling piece. I believe the architect of ‘Universal Credit’ was Iain Duncan Smith and some such team of renegades under his guidance. The entire ‘Benefits System’ is in urgent need of great reform in all it’s manifestations. The charitable giving of food, or ‘Food Banks’, to give this a cuddly name, is just one symptom of a system that is unfit for any democratic society that claims to care about all of it’s citizens. People must be given the resources to live with dignity when the so-called ‘free-market’ and/or personal circumstances fail to provide. This means cash benefits that cover all of the basic costs of living, given as the NHS should be, freely and at the point of need. All without sanctions, punishments and hurdles. The neo-liberal exercise in policy begun in the late 1970s must be put away in Boris’s playroom, locked up for eternity, and replaced with a compassionate and accessible cash-based alternative.

  2. Jamsie says:

    Sorry this article is so out of touch with reality it beggars belief.
    Govanhell has been totally failed by the representatives for the area.
    The residents would indeed be surprised that their area is considered a beacon.
    The Scottish “government” have been trying to avoid taking control of the welfare system in Scotland despite shouting for years how unfair it is.
    The ball is now at their feet and the buck stops with them.
    Suggest you try to explain to the residents born and bred in the area why it is a good thing to splash benefits to economic migrants rather than look after our own citizens.

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