A benefits clampdown rushed through to deter “foreign spongers” from Bulgaria and Romania from plugging directly into the welfare state has left the family of a former Antrim soldier living on the breadline.
Prime Minister David Cameron pushed through tough new rules days before work restrictions between the U.K. and the eastern European states were lifted on January 1, but local families have also been caught in the crossfire.
One local man revealed to the Antrim Guardian newspaper that his 16 years of service for “Queen and country” have been unceremoniously “thrown back in his face.” He served with the Royal Irish and saw action during the dying days of the Troubles.
When the opportunity came nine years ago to start a new life in the wilderness of Canada he and his wife seized it with both hands. It was worlds away from Firfields in Antrim where he was raised, but he grew to love Saskatchewan.
Early this year they decided to return home as they were British citizens and had retained their British passports. Neither had ever signed on before, but they realized they might need “a week or two” to find their feet before securing employment back in Antrim.
They returned home on the eve of Valentine’s Day, but they soon discovered that when it came to securing Jobseekers’ Allowance there was no love lost for people arriving from another jurisdiction, regardless of the fact that they had paid into the system for years before their departure.
“They were told that the same rules brought in to deter benefits tourism would also apply to them,” said a family spokesman. “That meant that they would have to wait three months before they could claim a single penny. Even the staff who broke the news were flabbergasted.
“We can’t believe that a man who served his country in difficult times was now being penalized in this way. It was a real slap in the mouth. They only wanted something to tide themselves over for a day or two until they landed new jobs. They are grafters — it was never their intention to claim benefits indefinitely.”
Antrim councilor Adrian Watson called on the government to take urgent steps to prevent “taxpayers being lumped together with benefit grabbers from overseas.”
“From the outset I would like to make it clear that I have absolutely no problem blocking Romanians and Bulgarians coming over here to live off benefits, but this case highlights a major problem with the legislation,” the outspoken Ulster Unionist Party rep said.
“This man is being treated like a foreign sponger, even though he is a British citizen. This man served this country, for goodness’ sake. I’m utterly appalled and I will be demanding answers on their behalf.”