Friday, 24 June 2011

Is immigration a barrier to a better welfare state?

One of the most common theories about why the UK has a much lower standard of welfare provision than the Scandinavian countries is that it is less ethnically homogeneous. In other words, the Scandinavians are more willing to pay in to a welfare state because their fellow citizens are 'more like them'. It is harder to build a socially cohesive society, and thus a society which prefers higher welfare, with a high level of multi-culturalism.

However, data from the 2009 UN Human Development Report suggest this theory is far too simplistic. As the graph below shows, the UK's immigrant population is only slightly larger than that of Norway and Denmark. And with regards to Sweden, we actually have a lower percentage of immigrants as a proportion of national population.

Immigrant population as a percentage of total population, 2005 (UNHDR, 2009)

Such evidence does not eliminate the population differences between the UK and the Scandinavian countries. They are of course much smaller, which may make for a more cohesive society. Equally, historical immigration rates may also be lower than the UK's, thereby providing the basis for a greater sense of societal reciprocity. Nevertheless, in the welfare debate it is always useful to separate the facts from the fiction. And for those who want a better welfare state, knock down the false barriers which the Right have erected.

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