Britain Rewards Extra Benefits To Polygamous Immigrants

Jacob Bojesson | Foreign Correspondent

Immigrants in polygamous marriages drain British taxpayers of millions of dollars each year by taking advantage of loopholes in the welfare system, and future legislation will make it even more profitable.

Polygamous marriages are outlawed in the United Kingdom, but are recognized in cases where they legally took place in other countries. A man can hold up to four wives as long as the marriages were lawful in the country from which he migrated.

Married couples in Great Britain can receive need-based income support of up to $162 per week. As of 2013 — when a number of reforms to marriage support came into effect — a man can claim an additional $57 for every subsequent wife. In total, a polygamous household can claim more than $17,000 in welfare over the course of a year. The arrangements are also subject to more generous tax breaks and council benefits to reflect needs for larger properties.

An even more profitable way for polygamous marriages to bring in welfare money is by getting married in a so-called “Nikah” ceremony, which is recognized by Islam, but not British law. The wives will hence appear as “single” in the system, and can take out additional benefits if they have children.

The issue first came to light in 2011 when Baroness Shreela Flather, the first Asian woman in the House of Lords, released a report on how immigrants take advantage of the system.

“Under Islamic Sharia law, polygamy is permissible,” Flather wrote in her report. “So a man can return to Pakistan, take another bride and then, in a repetition of the process, bring her to England where they also have children together — obtaining yet more money from the state. We cannot continue like this.”

British politicians have been trying to find ways to stop the practice in recent years. New legislation expected to go into effect by 2021, will no longer recognize multiple marriages for the same person. But “Nikah” marriages will still receive a huge boost from the new law, since women can receive more money under “single” status than she did as an additional wife. The allowance for the extra “wives” will more than double to $454 each per month.

“Treating second and subsequent partners in polygamous relationships as separate claimants could mean that polygamous households receive more under Universal Credit than under the current rules for means-tested benefits and tax credits,” a legal brief in the British parliament warned when the legislation passed in 2012.

It is estimated that there may be as many as 20,000 polygamous marriages in the United Kingdom.

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