Romanians do not recognise this thief stereotype – and neither do the British The Daily Mail has put up ‘Rudi’ as a Roma Romanian representative – let me fill in the gaps about our people, culture and economy
After the disappointment of not seeing waves of Romanians arriving in the UK once restrictions were lifted, some tabloids have found a new eastern European bestseller: the abuse to the benefits system.
A particular case attracted my attention: the Daily Mail interviewed “Rudi”, described as “an ebullient 28 years old” who lives with his family on benefits, around Nottingham. He confessed to be “a Roma Gypsy from Romania” and before coming to the UK three years ago he had first tried his luck in eight other countries: “I made my way by pick-pocketing, thieving and other small crimes. I was put in prison or arrested by the police in Norway, Finland, Sweden, Spain, Italy, France, Austria and Germany before I arrived here.”
For the interviewer, however, Rudi was probably a highly credible person, as he convinced the journalist that he was better informed than the UK Border Agency about the number of passengers coming every day from Romania to the UK by plane, bus or car.
According to the newspaper, he said: “Your benefits system is crazy. It’s like finding a sack full of cash that has been dropped, picking it up and no one saying anything,” claiming that he left Romania “because the authorities refuse to give us jobs”. But once in Britain, he showed little interest to work, thinking instead about benefits. “He sells scrap metal or does some decorating, which has allowed him to claim social welfare.”
The fact that he has been resident in the UK for three years confirms what I have stated on several occasions, namely that people who intended to emigrate are already here, and that restrictions on the labour market have not been an obstacle for exercising the right to free movement in the EU.
As for being a “Roma Gypsy” and therefore not being able to support himself at home, in Romania every person has equal access to employment. Indeed, people should work before claiming benefits. In order to receive benefits, you should first contribute. This is only fair. We too are against the culture of “getting something for nothing”. But from his comments, it is reasonable to conclude that Rudi’s intention in no less than 10 European countries was not to work.
Romania is against any form of discrimination and many projects for Roma social inclusion have been developed in the fields of education, employment, housing and health. There are 600,000 Roma people living in Romania and more than 12 million on the continent. According to the University of Salford, in the UK alone there are about 200,000 Roma, with the biggest number coming from Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary. The government of Romania has repeatedly argued the need for a common European strategy in order to help integrate and improve the life conditions of Roma people in Europe. We have to fight stereotypes and prejudice against Roma, but also mentalities inside this community.
Romania supports and applies measures to fight abuses of any kind, and the Romanian authorities condemn any attempts to defraud the existing national systems. Abuses do not have names or nationality. They are breaches of the law which are fought against with important tools of co-operation. For instance, we routinely share information with British authorities about cases of benefit fraud and abuses, based on data received from the Romanian law enforcement.
The person interviewed by the Daily Mail is certainly not representative of Romanians living in the UK who, in their overwhelming majority, contribute substantially to the public purse and are highly valued by the local communities they live in. Nor is “the ebullient Rudi” a representative for Roma, most of whom work hard to earn their living and are not involved in criminal activities.
In the case of Romanians, “benefit tourism as such is a myth” indeed, because from 5.7 million working age benefit claimants in the UK last year, only 1,740 were Romanians, which represents 0.03% of the total claimants, or 1.45% of the Romanian community in Britain. To compare, the percentage of working age benefit claimants for the whole UK population is 9.5%. Hopefully, the measures recently adopted by the British government to fight abuses to the benefits system will encourage many people who live on benefits in this country to find jobs.
Last year, the Romanian government succeeded to create almost 100,000 new jobs and in January 2014 more than 10,000 jobs were available. But our employers are now in competition with British employers, who only last month advertised 10,367 vacancies for Romanians.
The Romanian economy is growing fast, with a 5.2% GDP growth in the final quarter of 2013 – the biggest rise in the EU – and a full-year rate of 3.5%, (the EU average growth was only 0.1%). The inflation rate at the end of 2013 was about 1% and unemployment 7% (well below the EU average of 10.7%). The industrial production in Romania increased by 7% in 2013; the second largest rise in the EU.
Wages are on the rise – not the same level as in the UK, but prices are lower in Romania, houses are more affordable, the food is organic and the sun shines for longer than in other parts of Europe.
Last week, the Financial Times called my country “an eastern European tiger”, while noting that “Romania’s performance gives grounds for optimism. Investors’ appetite for a $2bn Romanian bond issue in January – five times oversubscribed – reflects broader enthusiasm. It also shows a degree of confidence in Romania’s fiscal consolidation.”
Romania is the seventh largest market within the EU and the largest in south-eastern Europe. There is a huge potential for investment projects and bilateral economic co-operation. More than 4,000 British companies are registered in Romania with a total investment of about €4.6bn.
But growth cannot be sustained without our most valuable asset, the labour force, and therefore we certainly do not want our people leaving. With the favourable economic climate and the focus on development and investments, we expect more and more Romanians to come back.
Read article in The Guardian.