‘Your benefits system is crazy. It’s like finding a sackful of cash left on the road’: How shocking admission by Rudi and his huge Romanian family debunks Eurocrat’s claims that ‘benefit tourism is a myth’
- Rudi Ion’s huge family could consist of up to 100 children, with 25 cousins
- His family moved to a 3-bedroomed house in ‘shabby’ Nottingham suburb
- Laszlo Andor, announced to UK ministers: ‘Benefits tourism is a myth.’
by Sue Reid
14 February 2014
Rudi Ion struggles to count up the children from his huge Romanian clan who now call Britain home. It could be 100, he tells me.
‘I’ve got 25 cousins all living around Nottingham, each with three or four kids,’ he adds with a loud laugh.
Rudi is speaking from his rented three-bedroom terrace house in Bridlington Street, a shabby part of the Midlands city where he’s settled with his wife Anda and their two sons, nine-year-old Ionut and Constantin, six.
Unemployed Roma immigrant Rudi Ion, currently living it up with his family in Bridlington Street, Nottingham, says he loves Britain and the Queen because of the benefits and free education and medical care. Rudi is pictured the front room of his home with his family. Pictured (Left to right) are Marian, Rudi, Aurica, Antonio, Veronika, Darius, Ana, Andrea, Elena, and Justin.
His mother Elena, 53, and sister Ana, who is 32, live there, too.
Rudi is an ebullient 28-year-old who speaks English well. He doesn’t seem surprised when I tell him that a recent controversial report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that more than 25 per cent of children born in England and Wales in 2011 were to foreign mothers — up 16 per cent on the decade before.
The highest number — 2.93 children per family on average — were the offspring of Romanians, and a spokesman for the ONS has suggested that Britain’s generous benefits system could encourage the migrants to have more children so they can claim extra money.
What is particularly striking, according to the ONS, is that Romanians who come to Britain are actually having more than twice as many children as they would at home, where the average is 1.25 children born to each family.
This week, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Laszlo Andor, attacked the so-called xenophobia of British politicians over the issue of migrants coming to Britain and claiming welfare. He grandiosly announced: ‘Benefits tourism as such is a myth.’
Yet Rudi readily admits that our generous benefits’ culture does encourage Romanians to uproot to the UK, where they can claim state money for the children they bring with them.
‘Your benefits system is crazy — I would actually say it was sick,’ he says, as he makes a gesture involving sticking his two fingers down his throat.
Family patriarch Rudi readily admits that our generous benefits culture does encourage Romanians to uproot to the UK, where they can claim state money for the children they bring with them.
‘Of course Romanians will settle in Britain if they get this kind of money. It is like walking down the road and seeing a sack full of cash that has been dropped, picking it up and no one saying anything.
‘If my people bring more children in, or have more children here, there are more benefits. So, of course, they have babies.’
His family came here from District Two, a multicultural area of the Romanian capital, Bucharest, after Rudi had first tried his luck in eight other countries dotted around the European Union.
He admits: ‘I made my way by pick-pocketing, thieving and other small crimes.
‘I was put into prison or arrested by the police in Norway, Finland, Sweden, Spain, Italy, France, Austria and Germany before I arrived here. My German is quite good because they jailed me there for six months, and the Austrian prison was very tough.’
He explains that his favoured modus operandi in both France and Germany was to stand in a telephone box and pretend to make a call and then run out of coins.
Asylum seekers getting help from civil servants. The Romanian family in Nottingham has likened the U.K. to a ‘heaven’ where they can claim benefit for their huge family
He would turn to the next person waiting in the queue and ask them if they had a Euro to give him. If the unsuspecting person got out their purse or wallet, he would snatch it and run off.
‘But I don’t do bad things anymore because I am not poor and live on your benefits,’ he told me. ‘I arrived in the UK on January 7 three years ago, and went to the Nottingham job centre to get a National Insurance number a few weeks after.
‘I came to Nottingham to stay with a cousin and found a good private accountant who told me how to claim the benefits. I soon brought over my family, too.
‘I have never been told to look for work by the job centre. I have never called back there after I got the National Insurance number. Why would I want a real boss when I get £300 put into my bank account each week for nothing?
‘There is the child benefit of £170 a month for Ionut and Constantin, too. In Romania, we were only given £17 a month for them. Now I sing “God praise your Queen Elizabeth” every day, because we have arrived in heaven.’
The £300 Rudi receives each week is made up of housing benefit, to cover his £500 a month rent (the house is owned by a private landlord), and he also receives tax credits (paid weekly or monthly) because his self-employed income is so low.
Fears that the U.K. benefits system is very easy to get into have given rise to the popular term ‘benefit’ tourism
Other EU countries where Rudi tried his luck were not so generous.
‘When I was in the rest of Europe, I never got benefits,’ he says. ‘In France, they chucked me out of the country and gave me £250 in Euros to fly back to Bucharest. ‘But, of course, I just returned to Western Europe again.
‘There is nothing for a Roma gipsy in Romania. The authorities treat us like dogs. They beat the kids in the schools and they refuse to give us jobs.
‘It is different here. We are even welcome at the GP’s surgery when we are ill.’
Up until now, Rudi has taken advantage of a loophole in immigration rules by stating he is self-employed. Under this umbrella, he says he sells scrap metal or does some decorating, which has allowed him to claim social welfare, free healthcare and schooling.
But on January 1 this year, all EU work restrictions were lifted, meaning migrants from former Communist countries of Romania and Bulgaria can now claim benefits, self-employed or not, three months after they arrive.
I met Rudi recently outside the Romanian Consulate in Kensington High Street, West London. He was getting out of his blue Mercedes and carrying his toddler niece, Beatrice (who was born in Britain) to get her first Romanian passport.
As gypsies, Rudi and his family have not had the privilege of living in these Romanian countryside houses near a ski resort, and so they have headed for greener pastures in the U.K
It means she will be able to travel back and forth on holidays with her extended family to Bucharest, where Rudi still has a house — empty now because everyone has decamped here.
Just days before, the Romanian Ambassador to Britain, Dr Ion Jinga, had said that only a ‘couple of dozen’ Romanians had come to Britain following the relaxation of rules in January.
That pronouncement was followed by David Cameron’s claim that arrivals of Romanians (and Bulgarians) were ‘reasonable’, although he admitted no one had done a headcount, so was guessing from ‘what I read and see’.
So did Rudi think that Cameron and the Ambassador were right?
‘Of course not,’ he told me, before inviting me to Nottingham to meet his family the next day.
There, he explained further: ‘Each bus that comes from Romania is full of people coming to live here. Each plane has 20, 30 or 40 of these passengers on board, and we Roma are also driving here by private car. We are not talking about visitors but those who come to stay.
‘You will get more people when the weather gets to spring. We feel good here because it is a better life. At home, even if you offer to work on a pig farm, the farmer says “No” because you are a gipsy.’
Once the correct documents have been attained, immigrants are free to travel back and forth from their home countries
He adds: ‘It is political strategy to say there are few Romanians arriving in the UK. If the authorities tell the British public that we are claiming benefits there will be a row. They do not count the numbers because they dare not. They need the matter to remain a secret.’
He introduces me to six other adult members of his family who, he says, all claim benefits of some kind. In the living room, two of the extended Ion clan’s many children — Antonio, three, and Andrea, six — are bouncing on a bed, which serves as a sofa.
Two pictures hang on the wall above it: one of Jesus Christ (Rudi’s family are devout Christians) and the other — incongruously — of Cliff Richard.
A dark-haired baby boy, 10-month-old Darius, is being breastfed by his mother Veronika, Rudi’s 30-year-old sister, who is visiting but lives in another house in Nottingham.
Today, some of the extended family’s children are at school, though Rudi’s wife and sons are on a long holiday in Bucharest.
‘She will still be able to claim the UK child benefits while they are there,’ says Rudi confidently.
It is an overcast day in Nottingham, but the scene in the house is one of family bonhomie. Coffee is served by Rudi’s sister, and I am offered a cigarette. There is lots of laughter as Rudi holds court.
The family are anxious to introduce to me a seventh family member, the latest arrival from Bucharest, a 31-year-old cousin called Marian Barbu, who landed at Luton airport on the early morning flight that day.
Rudi has just driven down the M1 and back to pick him up.
‘This morning, there were lots of men like Marian coming through the arrivals hall. They were not here for a holiday but to try to make a better life for themselves, one way or another, in the UK.’
He shows me Marian’s airline ticket stub to prove he is telling the truth. ‘We Romanians can go anywhere we want in Europe now — but, of course, it is only Britain that pays us to live.
‘Of course, we want to be here. I will only run away when your country starts sinking under the weight of people, which will happen one day.’
Then he turns to the big TV set on the wall in the overcrowded living room. It is blaring out the news from a Romanian TV channel showing six-foot snowdrifts in Bucharest.
As Rudi points to the chilly scenes, he asks frankly: ‘Who would want to be there when you look after us so well here?’