Ed MILIBAND has pledged a shake-up of benefit rules to ensure that migrants “earn the right” to the UK’s welfare state and face stiff English language tests before taking up jobs in response to the surge in support for Ukip.
The Labour leader accepted that Ukip’s successes in recent by-elections now represent a real danger that his party cannot ignore in the run-up to next year’s General Election.
Mr Miliband is facing discontent among his back-benchers who accuse him of failing to do enough to counter Ukip and of allowing Nigel Farage to amass support in Labour heartlands.
Ukip failed by only 617 votes to oust Labour in its previously safe seat of Heywood and Middleton in Greater Manchester.
He said Labour will announce tough new immigration policies in coming weeks, with rules limiting access to benefits until migrants have contributed to the state based on the principles of “contribution, responsibility, fairness”.
Mr Miliband said that as well as stronger border controls and laws to stop “exploitation that has undermined wages of local workers”, Labour will commit to “reforms to ensure those who come here speak English and earn the right to any benefit entitlements”.
Measures are expected to include language tests on migrants to ensure those applying for public sector jobs have a level of proficiency as a condition of being taken on.
Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman insisted there was no “wobble” in the party’s ranks and denied a leadership change would be required despite concerns about how voters view the party and huge Ukip gains in Heywood and Middleton.
She said: “There’s not a wobble in the ranks and nor should there be.
“Obviously we’re very pleased we’ve got a new Labour MP and it was evident there was a collapse in confidence in the Tories and the Lib Dems but that doesn’t make us complacent because the result was very close.”
Ms Harman was also challenged to outline Labour’s new policies on immigration.
She said: “Basically if people have committed serious criminal offences in other countries, they shouldn’t be allowed in this country.
“If they commit criminal offences here, even if they’re an EU citizen, they should be deported back to their country of origin.
“On benefits, if people want to claim contributory benefits they should have been here long enough to claim into the system before they get out.
“If their children are abroad, you can’t claim child benefit when you’re working here.”