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Migration in the UK

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David Goodhart's essay in The Prospect (february 2004) and the Guardian on 'Disconfort of the strangers' stroke me the most as I was in the UK last week.


I was astonished to read about the impossibility to conciliate diversity and solidarity in UK for him and some politicians....The entrance of 10 new members in the EU seems to be a great issue for the UK (migration problem, the ability for migrants to have a coverage with the NHS....

A lot of comments have been made since but I would like some of you to explain to me if it is a widespread feeling in he British society.

Jean Philippe

Edited by JP Raud Dugal
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There are certainly many people in the UK who are quite opposed to the entry of additional migrants. It has become a major political issue here. The area of concern seems to be around the legitimacy of the claims for asylum. Increasing numbers of people appear to be angered by the arrival of 'economic migrants'. The argument put forward is that many people are attempting to seek entry to the UK simply because of the Welfare provision. The Conservative party (currently the leading opposition party in the UK) have made this one of their leading areas of policy. This BBC article outlines the views of the Conservative Party leader, Micheal Howard. The main thrust of his policy seems to centre around comments such as:

"That will ensure [genuine refugees] can still travel to Britain, but that those who are merely economic migrants do not place an intolerable burden on the state"

Other political parties have also commented on the asylum issues:

Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Mark Oaten:

"While everyone would agree with Michael Howard's statements on the BNP, it is disappointing that he went on to pander to the right on issues of asylum and immigration. After criticising the BNP for simplifying the complex issue of asylum, he fell into the same trap himself.

"Last year the Tories suggested buying a deserted 'asylum island' where we could send all the refugees coming to Britain. Michael Howard’s latest fantasy fairy-tale policy is to rid the UK of all asylum seekers and make everyone apply from abroad. Does Mr Howard think that someone fleeing persecution and possibly death will have the time to sit down and fill in an application form? And if they do go to a British reception centre in a different country, where will they stay while their application is processed?

"Finally, how much will all this cost the UK? Again, it seems that Mr Howard has been reading his little book of Grimm's Fairy Tales for inspiration. Grim ideas, grim policies, grim prospects for Britain if the Tories ever get into power.

Official policy regarding Asylum seekers and Immigration was changed as recently as November 2003. This can be read online at The United Kingdom Parliament website.

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I have in fact started two threads on David Goodhart’s article:

The Future of the Welfare State


An article by David Goodhart in the February edition of the Prospect Magazine has caused a great deal of controversy in Britain. The article looks at the future of the welfare state in Britain and other European countries. For example, here is a section that deals with Britain, America, Sweden and Denmark.

The diversity, individualism and mobility that characterise developed economies - especially in the era of globalisation - mean that more of our lives is spent among strangers. Ever since the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago, humans have been used to dealing with people from beyond their own extended kin groups. The difference now in a developed country such as Britain is that we not only live among stranger citizens but we must share with them. We share public services and parts of our income in the welfare state, we share public spaces in towns and cities where we are squashed together on buses, trains and tubes, and we share in a democratic conversation - filtered by the media - about the collective choices we wish to make. All such acts of sharing are more smoothly and generously negotiated if we can take for granted a limited set of common values and assumptions. But as Britain becomes more diverse that common culture is being eroded.

And therein lies one of the central dilemmas of political life in developed societies: sharing and solidarity can conflict with diversity. This is an especially acute dilemma for progressives who want plenty of both solidarity (high social cohesion and generous welfare paid out of a progressive tax system) and diversity (equal respect for a wide range of peoples, values and ways of life). The tension between the two values is a reminder that serious politics is about trade-offs. It also suggests that the left's recent love affair with diversity may come at the expense of the values and even the people that it once championed.

It was the Conservative politician David Willetts who drew my attention to the "progressive dilemma". Speaking at a roundtable on welfare reform, he said: "The basis on which you can extract large sums of money in tax and pay it out in benefits is that most people think the recipients are people like themselves, facing difficulties that they themselves could face. If values become more diverse, if lifestyles become more differentiated, then it becomes more difficult to sustain the legitimacy of a universal risk-pooling welfare state. People ask: 'Why should I pay for them when they are doing things that I wouldn't do?' This is America versus Sweden. You can have a Swedish welfare state provided that you are a homogeneous society with intensely shared values. In the United States you have a very diverse, individualistic society where people feel fewer obligations to fellow citizens. Progressives want diversity, but they thereby undermine part of the moral consensus on which a large welfare state rests."

These words alerted me to how the progressive dilemma lurks beneath many aspects of current politics: national tax and redistribution policies; the asylum and immigration debate; development aid budgets; European Union integration and spending on the poorer southern and east European states; and even the tensions between America (built on political ideals and mass immigration) and Europe (based on nation states with core ethnic-linguistic solidarities)…

In their 2001 Harvard Institute of Economic Research paper "Why Doesn't the US Have a European-style Welfare State?", Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser and Bruce Sacerdote argue that the answer is that too many people at the bottom of the pile in the US are black or Hispanic. Across the US as a whole, 70% of the population are non-Hispanic whites - but of those in poverty only 46% are non-Hispanic whites. So a disproportionate amount of tax income spent on welfare is going to minorities. The paper also finds that US states that are more ethnically fragmented than average spend less on social services. The authors conclude that Americans think of the poor as members of a different group, whereas Europeans still think of the poor as members of the same group. Robert Putnam, the analyst of social capital, has also found a link between high ethnic mix and low trust in the US. There is some British evidence supporting this link, too. Researchers at Mori found that the average level of satisfaction with local authorities declines steeply as the extent of ethnic fragmentation increases. Even allowing for the fact that areas of high ethnic mix tend to be poorer, Mori found that ethnic fractionalisation still had a substantial negative impact on attitudes to local government.

Finally, Sweden and Denmark may provide a social laboratory for the solidarity/diversity trade-off in the coming years. Starting from similar positions as homogeneous countries with high levels of redistribution, they have taken rather different approaches to immigration over the past few years. Although both countries place great stress on integrating outsiders, Sweden has adopted a moderately multicultural outlook. It has also adapted its economy somewhat, reducing job protection for older native males in order to create more low-wage jobs for immigrants in the public sector. About 12% of Swedes are now foreign-born, and it is expected that by 2015 about 25% of under-18s will be either foreign-born or the children of the foreign-born. This is a radical change and Sweden is adapting to it rather well. (The first clips of mourning Swedes after the murder of the foreign minister Anna Lindh were of crying immigrants expressing their sorrow in perfect Swedish.) But not all Swedes are happy about it.

Denmark has a more restrictive and "nativist" approach to immigration. Only 6% of the population is foreign-born, and native Danes enjoy superior welfare benefits to incomers. If the solidarity/diversity trade-off is a real one and current trends continue, then one would expect in, say, 20 years that Sweden will have a less redistributive welfare state than Denmark; or rather that Denmark will have a more developed two-tier welfare state with higher benefits for insiders, while Sweden will have a universal but less generous system.

Immigration and the Economy


Interesting article by David Goodhart that looks at the economic benefits of immigration. It includes the following:

Supporters of large-scale immigration now focus on the quantifiable economic benefits, appealing to the self-interest rather than the idealism of the host population. While it is true that some immigration is beneficial - neither the NHS nor the building industry could survive without it - many of the claimed benefits of mass immigration are challenged by economists such as Adair Turner and Richard Layard. It is clear, for example, that immigration is no long-term solution to an ageing population for the simple reason that immigrants grow old, too. Keeping the current age structure constant over the next 50 years, and assuming today's birth rate, would require 60m immigrants. Managing an ageing society requires a package of later retirement, rising productivity and limited immigration. Large-scale immigration of unskilled workers does allow native workers to bypass the dirtiest and least rewarding jobs but it also increases inequality, does little for per capita growth, and skews benefits in the host population to employers and the better-off.


The first thread was ignored but the second threat has created a debate on low-paid workers, immigrants and trade unions.

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