There's a scene in a Simpsons episode that I sometimes like to remember. It's the one where Bart realises that Sideshow Bob is going to blow up Selma after she lights her post-MacGuyver cigarette, having filled the room with gas - knowing she has no sense of smell after a freak rocket-bottle accident - and he has to try and convey this information to Homer before it's too late.
"When Aunt Selma lights her cigarette, she'll be blown to kingdom come!"
Bart lights the stove. Homer doesn't understand. Bart makes Homer read 'Science Made Very Simple To Understand'. Homer doesn't understand. Bart draws a picture of an explosion with the word BOOM! in capital letters. Homer doesn't understand. Bart puts on a puppet show about things exploding. Homer doesn't understand. Finally, Bart tells Marge.
Now I'm not saying that Express readers' understanding of immigration and benefits is like Homer's understanding of how things explode. But that's certainly the level of understanding that the writers of articles in the Express pitch towards their readers. As ever, it's not really me who holds Daily Express readers in contempt; I could never have as much hatred for them as the Daily Express does.
And so, like David Bowie always crashing in the same car, we arrive at the scene of the same accident we have every day, in the same place, and we discover today's front page.
The construction of this story is slightly less barking than most; it's quite elegantly put together, really. Don't get me wrong, it's a woven turd rather than a Faberge egg, but you've still got to admire elements of it. There are quite a few hot buttons being pressed. Come with me now, and play "Daily Express bogus bogeyman bingo":
MEDDLING EU judges sparked outrage last night after giving scrounging foreigners the green light to sponge thousands of pounds from British taxpayers.
In a blow to millions of hard-working Britons, immigrants will now be entitled to claim rent, income support, council tax and a host of other benefits simply if their children go to school in the UK.
Meddling EU judges? Kerching! Outrage? Kerching! Scrounging foreigners? Kerching! Sponge thousands of pounds? Kerching! British taxpayers? Kerching! Immigrants claiming benefits? Hard-working Britons? Raping our children in the eye*? Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding! Yay, we win the fucking jackpot!
Sure, it's a crock, but I do admire the brio and style with which it's been carried out. This is the point where, presumably, we have to turn into Bart, try and sit down with our Express reader and draw simple diagrams and do puppet shows to try and explain to them how benefits work, and how not everyone who claims them is a sponger. For the "outrage" comes, as it so frequently does, from the fact that people might get out more money than they put in. Yes... and... well, that's it. Non-working immigrant parents may get benefits because they have children at school in Britain. Er, OK. But so do non-working non-immigrant parents, don't they? Yes, but there appears to be a lot less outrage about that.
Benefits are a bit like that. You don't always get out what you put in. It's not like National Insurance and tax is some kind of big shiny bank where you're only entitled to withdraw what you put in. It might be some people's dream that it would be, but it's not. We don't call children 'spongers' because they haven't paid the tax that is going to fund their education, healthcare and everything else, do we? That would be foolish. And yet, I can't help wondering if there's something about the word 'sponger' in this context. Haven't I seen it somewhere before?
Ah yes, there's one example from the archives. 'Spongeing asylum seekers'. That would be 'asylum seekers who are not allowed to work and who must therefore depend on benefits', if you want to put it that way; but silly me, it's probably easier for the sake of clarity to just use the word 'spongeing', isn't it? I mean, if it's unlawful for you to work and pay tax, and you must therefore depend on benefits while your asylum case is sorted out, you're spongeing, aren't you? Aren't you?
They will be able to claim the cash even if they don’t have a job, UK citizenship or any genuine claim to live in this country.
Critics fear the landmark ruling will open the “floodgates” to a wave of foreigners seeking state support from Britain with no intention of putting anything back into the country.
Yeah, floodgates. Why not just say "Wurrrrrrrrrrrrgh!" and be done with it? You're probably guessing there's a quote in there from the Tax Payers' Alliance, and indeed there is. You also may be wondering what you have to do in order to qualify for these benefits... well it's very simple:
Mrs Ibrahim arrived in the UK in 2003 to join her husband, named in court as Mr Yusuf. As a Danish national, he counted as a “migrant worker” from another EU country, with UK residency rights. This also applied to his wife.
The couple have four children of Danish nationality, aged 12, 10, eight and four. After working in the UK for five months, Mr Yusuf claimed incapacity benefit, and left the UK after being declared fit for work in March 2004.
He then “ceased to satisfy the conditions for lawful residence” in the UK. Ms Ibrahim’s application for housing assistance was rejected by Harrow on the grounds that only people with a right of residence under EU law could apply.
But yesterday’s EU ruling said: “A parent caring for the child of a migrant worker who is in education in the host Member State has a right of residence in that State. That right is not conditional on the parent having sufficient resources not to become a burden on the social assistance system.”
Oh, I see, well that's a piece of piss, isn't it? I imagine lots of spouses of immigrant workers who pay tax over here and then go on to leave the country will sneakily enrol their children into school in the meantime, just to get the handouts for when they split up. I'm sure that's going to happen literally millions of times.
* All right, I made this one up.