Muslim immigrants with more than one wife will see an increase in their social welfare benefits beginning in 2013, when reforms to the British welfare system come into effect.
Although polygamy is illegal in Britain, the state effectively recognizes the practice for Muslim men, who often have up to four wives (and in some instances five or more) in a harem.
Currently the state pays extra wives in polygamous households reduced amounts of individual income support, in addition to the normal amount received by the husband and his first spouse.
Under the new rules, however, the extra wives will be eligible to claim a full single person's allowance (despite being married), while the original married couple will still receive the standard married person's allowance.
The changes are part of wide-ranging reforms to the welfare system that are being implemented by Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government, which admits that it wants to treat extra wives as single so that the state will not officially be recognizing polygamy as it is under the current system.
Critics who had hoped the government reforms would do away with benefits for polygamy altogether say the so-called Welfare Reform Bill is simply opening up a loophole for polygamous families to claim more money from the state.
Details of the changes were revealed in a 13-page legal brief dated July 19, and published by the library of the House of Commons. The document states: "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."
The issue of Muslims with multiple wives claiming extra welfare payments has been steeped in controversy for years.
In September 2011, a British newspaper exposé on the subject found that the phenomenon of bigamy and polygamy -- permitted by Islamic Sharia law -- is far more widespread in Britain than previously believed. The rapid growth in multiple marriages is being fuelled by multicultural policies that grant special rights to Muslim immigrants, who demand that Sharia law be reflected in British law and the social welfare benefits system.
The exposé quotes two senior social welfare experts and is based on least 20,000 bigamous or polygamous Muslim unions in England and Wales. If the average size of such a "family" is 15 people, these numbers would imply that around 300,000 people in Britain are living in polygamous families.
The multiple marriages have been encouraged by changes made to the British welfare system by the previous Labour government, which allowed Muslim immigrants to have a second, third or fourth wife (and in some cases five or more) treated as a single mother who can get a house and an array of other state payments for herself and her children.
The exposé shows how Muslim men can take a new spouse from anywhere in the world, father any number of children with her, and have British taxpayers assume responsibility for this family's upkeep and care.
Although all marriages that take place in the United Kingdom must be monogamous, Muslim immigrants can and do employ countless evasions to practice polygamy without running afoul of British matrimony laws.
Muslim men, for example, can marry their extra "wives" in an Islamic Nikah ceremony (temporary marriage), either in their own homes or in a mosque. Because these marriages are not officially recognized, they do not appear in government statistics, nor do they have any status under the law. As a result, the "single mothers" involved in these marriages are entitled to receive welfare benefits from the British state.
Another technique is for a Muslim couple to marry legally under British law but then divorce, leaving them then to have a Nikah ceremony and continue living together. The woman will then be entitled to welfare payments as a single mother and the man can then bring another woman from abroad and legally marry her in Britain.
Muslim men also cheat the system by bringing brides from abroad as nannies for their children, or as nurses for a sick relative. After the bride's one year visitors' visa expires, she then disappears into a tight-knit local Muslim community and is then entitled to receive welfare handouts.
Apart from the "nanny ruse," new female partners enter the country using tourist visas, student visas or work permits. They simply overstay the visas, which are normally for six months, and then remain in Britain, often hiding away in their husband's home.
The United Kingdom also recognizes polygamous marriages in which both parties, before they moved to Britain, were resident in a country where the practice is legal. Since the 2008 change the former Labour government made to British law, a Muslim man with four wives is entitled to receive £10,000 ($15,000) a year in income support alone. He could also be entitled to more generous housing and council tax benefits to reflect the fact that his household needs a bigger property.
The result is that the more children produced by Muslim polygamists, the more state welfare money pours in for their wives and them. By having a string of wives living in separate homes, thousands of Muslim immigrants are squeezing tens of millions of British pounds from the state by claiming benefits intended for single mothers and their children.
Those women are eligible for full housing benefits – which reach £106,000 ($250,000) a year in some parts of London -- and child benefits paid at £1,000 ($1,500) a year for a first child, and nearly £700 ($1,000) for each subsequent one.
The exposé describes, by way of example, a street in a Yorkshire town on which all the residents are Pakistani women with children living on social security. There is not one man living in the street.
The report says: "The men find second wives in the UK as well as any Muslim country abroad. The new favorite places to find women are Turkey and Morocco, because the men can drive there by car to meet them and bring them back."
The report also interviews a Muslim woman who was deserted by her husband of 20 years when he went on holiday to Bangladesh and returned to say he was about to marry, in a Nikah ceremony, a girl of 19 whom wanted to bring to Britain as his second wife.
"All over the place, in London's East End, in Yorkshire towns, down the road, across the street, I see Muslim men taking second or third wives. I cannot count the number of times I have been approached to be a second wife myself by Bangladeshi men who know I am now on my own," she said.
A separate investigative report describes how Muslim women suffer as a result of polygamy. It quotes a government social worker who is active in Muslim neighborhoods as saying: "The first wives get depressed because they are so ashamed of their husband taking a second or third wife. Many wives have been here for years, but have never been allowed to learn English or even go out of the house alone. They have no one to turn to for help."
The controversy over multiple marriages in Britain became a national issue in September 2011 with the publication of a hard-hitting essay entitled, "Polygamy, Welfare Benefits and an Insidious Silence." It was written by Baroness Shreela Flather, Mayor of Windsor and Maidenhead, who was born in Lahore (now part of Pakistan) and was the first Asian woman member of the British House of Lords.
Baroness Flather wrote: "Under Islamic Sharia law, polygamy is permissible. 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."
More recently she said: "Why are they allowed to have more than one wife? We should prosecute one or two people for bigamy…that would sort it out."