LONDON, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Britain will stop helping jobless immigrants from other countries in the European Union with their housing costs from April, two cabinet ministers said on Monday, saying they wanted to reverse “a shameful betrayal” of British workers.
In comments likely to further strain tensions with EU officials who have accused Prime Minister David Cameron’s government of scaremongering about intra-EU immigration, the ministers said they were acting after evidence showed British workers were being displaced by migrants.
Cameron’s Conservative-led government is seeking to counter the popularity of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), ranked as Britons’ favourite political party, by toughening rules on immigration and welfare benefits.
Opinion polls show British voters rank immigration as one of their biggest worries, though business leaders have cautioned that they have trouble finding low-skilled workers to do low wage jobs of the kind often filled by migrants.
From April, new EU arrivals will not be able to receive both unemployment benefit, known as jobseekers’ allowance, and housing benefits, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Home Secretary Theresa May said.
“From the beginning of April we will be removing entitlement to housing benefit altogether for this group (of EU job-seekers),” Duncan Smith and May wrote in a joint article in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper.
The article, headlined “This Shameful Betrayal”, said British workers had been betrayed by a system which left them on the sidelines while giving foreigners jobs.
“These new immigration and benefit checks will clamp down on those trying to exploit the system,” the ministers said in the article.
Responding to concerns about the lifting of work restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians, Cameron in December rushed out regulations to stop EU migrants being able to claim welfare benefits as soon as they arrive. Under the rules, they have to wait three months before they can apply for welfare.
EU officials have repeatedly criticised Britain for its tough attitude on migration, straining already tense relations between Brussels and London over Britain’s desire to renegotiate its 40-year-old relationship with the EU.