Dr Emma Carmel from our Department of Social & Policy Sciences gave expert evidence this week in the European Parliament at Tuesday’s Committee hearing on the obstacles to freedom of movement for EU citizens.

Focusing on the portability of social security rights for EU citizens – their ability to transfer entitlements between different member states – her contribution emphasised the complexity of regulations at EU level and in member states. In practice, these regulations combine to create barriers that directly impact EU workers’ social security.

This drew on analysis and results from the TRANSWEL research project, for which Dr Carmel leads the policy analysis and the UK team. The three year cross-national study, funded by NORFACE, explores the regulations as well as experiences of EU citizens as they migrate between four pairs of EU countries, in order to understand how the system works and how it could be improved or better streamlined.

From a survey of 1,400 mobile EU citizens – both temporary and permanent migrants – the project has found that in fact only very small proportions of workers apply to transfer their welfare and security rights, even when they may have earned these rights through their employment contributions. Barriers are produced by regulations that were originally designed to enhance social rights. Highly mobile EU citizens and those who are employed in more precarious jobs are likely to be especially affected, and at a time when such precarious work is becoming more common in all EU labour markets.

Commenting from Brussels, Dr Carmel said: “Different approaches to welfare and social security across the EU mean that navigating the system for citizens is far harder than many people appreciate. We found that challenges are particularly an issue for those in more precarious employment and that applications for family or unemployment benefits were far lower than many expect in spite of the prevalent newspaper headlines and political discourse to the contrary.

“As the EU and UK prepare for Brexit negotiations, these issues of portability and welfare rights are crucial to get right as they will have a significant effect on people’s lives. These rights are important for hundreds of thousands of EU citizens living and working in the UK, as well as for UK citizens resident in other EU member states, who want social security for themselves and their families and into their retirement.

“My appearance in the European Parliament this week was an excellent opportunity to feed our findings back to policy-makers as they look to make reforms to the system.”