The recent UK government’s negotiation of the so-called “emergency brake” on benefits for European Union citizens ahead of the EU referendum received a significant amount of attention in the media and the public, with some celebrating the deal as a ‘success’ while others criticising it for not ‘being good enough’. The ‘deal’ and the debate around it took place amidst an already widely negative public and political discourse around the nexus of migration and welfare, perhaps most poignantly signified by the trope of ‘benefit tourism’ and the targeting of migrants as ‘abusers’ of the system. Amidst this heightened debate and the ongoing preoccupation with (the threat of) ‘benefit tourism’, little attention has been paid to EU migrants’ own concerns and perspective with regard to welfare provision.
Taking as a starting point the experiences of welfare provision amongst these migrants themselves, in this paper I demonstrate how the process of restricting the rights of EU citizens with regard to social welfare has been ongoing and was already at play prior to debates around the EU referendum. The paper is based on ethnographic research conducted over 12 months in 2012 with Czech and Slovak nationals who came to the UK after 2004. Introducing the migrants’ notion of zkancelovali, the paper highlights a heightened sense of insecurity in their everyday lives, which arise from the increasingly common experiences of rejections of benefit applications and delays of payments. Various practices are discussed which call into question the limits of EU citizenship and show how the latter is affected not only through policies, rules and discourses but also in everyday encounters with state officials, where boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ are being redrawn. Drawing on sociological/anthropological perspectives on state and statecraft, it is argued that the migrants’ experiences of welfare provision can be considered as constitutive of nation-building processes, processes which turn (EU) citizens into immigrants.
Taulant Guma (Aberystwyth University)