“Benefit Tourism” and Migration Policy in the U.K.: Political Creativity and the Construction of Policy Narratives
Drawing on recent political science and policy scholarship inspired by pragmatist thinkers on “political creativity” (Galvan, Berk, and Hattam 2013) and policy narratives (Boswell et. al. 2011), I argue that “benefits tourism” is a policy narrative which is part of a larger assemblage of ideas and practices which intersects with both domestic and international politics and events. I trace the emergence, resonance, and resurgence of benefits tourism as a narrative in the U.K. and the impact this narrative could have on the governance of free movement in the E.U. The governance of intra-E.U. mobility at the supranational level requires member states to accept limits on their ability to control the regulation of E.U. nationals in the workforce (Paul 2013). Yet the recent enlargements of the E.U. have led the U.K. government to question the desirability of free movement. This paper traces the processes through which benefits tourism is constructed as a policy problem and specifically linked to E.U. migration. Intra- and inter-party politics, an environment of Euroskepticism, a broad frame of “abuse of the system,” and the linkages made by media and politicians connecting migrants to criminality all contributed to the perception of E.U. migrants, particularly Romanians and Bulgarians, as “benefits tourists.” Additionally, uncertainty about migration flows and the prevalence of “abuse of the system” have contributed to the government’s questioning of the benefits of free movement. Ultimately, this paper emphasizes the role of national-level political actors and events in shaping and interpreting beliefs about policy problems, examining when and why the governance of free movement and national policy narratives conflict.