Harriet Harman hails the migrant 'heroes' who send benefits to families abroad


Helping hand: Harriet Harman gives some advice to one of her Muslim constituents

Helping hand: Harriet Harman gives some advice to one of her Muslim constituents

Labour's welfare policies were in disarray last night after Harriet Harman said it should be made easier for immigrants to send benefit payments to relatives abroad.

At a meeting in her constituency, the party’s deputy leader praised claimants who funnel taxpayers’ cash to Africa as ‘hidden heroes’.

Bizarrely she claimed the practice – widely seen as an abuse of the overstretched welfare system – was a way of boosting international aid.

Taxpayers foot a £20million annual bill to pay child benefit to immigrants whose children are not even living in Britain.

But Miss Harman sparked ridicule yesterday by saying she would like to see tax breaks to make it even easier for immigrants to send cash home.

Her views have left Labour leader Ed Miliband with a fresh headache. Last night his aides pointedly refused to say whether he backed her views.

The Tories dismissed Miss Harman’s claims as proof that Labour was out of touch with the public on the need to slash welfare costs.

Labour’s deputy leader, who is also the party’s spokesman on international development, made the comments at a meeting in her Camberwell and Peckham constituency in South London.

Miss Harman, sometimes referred to as the MP for Lagos because of her high number of Nigerian-born constituents, said she had been impressed by how many were sending benefits cash back home.

Observers said she led a discussion with immigrants and charities on the ‘hidden heroes of development through developing new policies on remittances’. She said: ‘There are many people in my constituency who come from Africa and work and study and bring up their families here.

‘Many of them also send money back to their village in their country of origin. We should respect and encourage that. International development is not just something done by governments.

‘Some of these families will be receiving child benefit and tax credits to which they are entitled. Charitable generosity has never been confined to the well-off.’ Her ideas were dismissed as ‘bizarre’ by the government, which is targeting the welfare budget for cuts.

Consituency: Ms Harman made her comments during a meeting at Southwark Town Hall in south London attended by local voters with Nigerian, Ugandan and other foreign backgrounds

Consituency: Ms Harman made her comments during a meeting at Southwark Town Hall in south London attended by local voters with Nigerian, Ugandan and other foreign backgrounds

Michael Fallon, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, said: ‘Hard-pressed families shouldn’t be paying tax to support our welfare system to only to see the money sent abroad.

‘This shows how Labour are completely out of touch on welfare reform and the need to cut our welfare bills.

‘Ed Miliband should make up his mind whether he wants to cut welfare costs or not.’

Last year British taxpayers funded child benefit payments for more than 50,000 children outside the UK, 37,900 of them in Poland.

Senior Tories endorsed the right of immigrants to send a portion of their wages to relatives back home but stressed that the government is already putting record funds into international aid, ring-fencing the budget while other departments face cuts.

Last night it was not clear whether Miss Harman’s plans were party policy. A Labour spokesman said: ‘Labour is in favour of remittances and is looking at how it can support further.’ But Mr Miliband’s spokesman said: ‘It’s not something that we’re commenting on.’

Mr Miliband is likely to be challenged on his views when he holds a press conference this morning to boost his flagging leadership.

Oliver Heald, a member of the Commons work and pensions committee, said: ‘It sounds as if Harriet Harman wants to slip money out of the country.’

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