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David Cameron accused of overstating immigrant problems

By Andrew Grice in London

A pledge by Prime Minister David Cameron to reduce the pressures on public services by migrants has run into immediate trouble amid accusations that he is "scaremongering" and exaggerating the scale of the problem.

In a speech in Ipswich, Mr Cameron vowed to end Britain's reputation as a "soft touch" by reducing the rights of migrants to state benefits, NHS treatment and council housing.

He announced that migrants who fail to learn English could lose any right to jobless benefits and added: "When it comes to illegal immigrants we are rolling up that red carpet and showing them the door."

But Downing Street struggled to provide figures to illustrate the extent of the problem.

Mr Cameron said people from the European Economic Area (EEA) -- 26 fellow EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein -- would lose their right to jobseeker's allowance after six months unless they had a "genuine chance" of finding work.

But the latest figures suggest that, of the 2.2 million net migrants from the eight Eastern European nations that joined the EU in 2004, only 12,850 are currently claiming jobseeker's allowance.

Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, described Mr Cameron's proposals as a "sideshow".

The vast majority of migrants from EEA nations were young, healthy and mostly in work and contributing by paying their taxes, he said. (© Independent News Service)

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