Labour may withhold benefits from EU migrants to take on Ukip

A Labour government could withhold out-of-work benefits from EU migrants until they have paid into the system through National Insurance, says Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves.

Ms Reeves’ comments come a day after Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls indicated a shift towards a harder line on immigration, saying that he backs “fair movement, not free movement” for EU citizens coming to the UK.

Their interventions – part of a summer offensive ordered by Ed Miliband to draw clear lines with the Conservatives in the run-up to next year’s general election – will be seen as an effort to win back Ukip supporters, which has been using concerns about immigration to eat into Labour’s traditional working-class vote.

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Ms Reeves said migrants from Europe could be denied benefits altogether until they have worked and built up National Insurance contributions. “It isn’t right that somebody who has worked hard all their lives and has contributed to the system is entitled to only the same as somebody who has just come to this country, so we need to look at that,” said the Leeds West MP.

“It shouldn’t be that you can draw on the system without having contributed.”

The proposal risks putting the UK at loggerheads with Brussels unless it was also applied to British citizens.

She is expected to use her speech to accuse Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith of presiding over “a culture of waste, write-offs and failure”, including £134m on the flagship Universal Credit, £140 m on Personal Independence Payments and £27m on a scrapped web-based service called My Benefits Online.