An American Dilemma in Europe? Welfare Reform and Immigration

race ethnicity and welfare states

Are European countries facing an American dilemma? Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser (2004) stirred great controversy when they argued that the generous European welfare states might not be able to survive in heterogeneous societies. Pointing to the rise of anti-immigrant politicians in Europe, they claimed that “as Europe has become more diverse, Europeans have increasingly been susceptible to exactly the same form of racist, anti-welfare demagoguery that worked so well in the United States.” In a chapter to a new volume on race, ethnicity and the welfare state, Romana Careja, Patrick Emmenegger and I study the relation between immigration and ethnicity on the one hand and policy change on the other hand in Denmark and the United Kingdom.

Although Denmark and the UK are countries with different welfare regimes and types of democratic institutional settings, both countries have tightened immigrants’ access to the country and to its social benefits in at least ten different ways. One example of a change of immigration or social policy that disproportionately and adversely affects immigrants may be an accident, i.e. a case of ignorance on behalf of politicians. Two examples of such change may be a tragedy as immigrants tend to rely on social assistance than nationals and thus are more exposed to adverse change. However, ten examples in two different countries cannot be dismissed as either an accident or a tragedy, but must be seen as policy-making that has the purpose of weakening the social rights of immigrants, the extent of redistribution to non-native-born persons or both.Although Denmark and the UK are countries with different welfare regimes and types of democratic institutional settings, both countries have tightened immigrants’ access to the country and to its social benefits in at least ten different ways. One example of a change of immigration or social policy that disproportionately and adversely affects immigrants may be an accident, i.e. a case of ignorance on behalf of politicians. Two examples of such change may be a tragedy as immigrants tend to rely on social assistance than nationals and thus are more exposed to adverse change. However, ten examples in two different countries cannot be dismissed as either an accident or a tragedy, but must be seen as policy-making that has the purpose of weakening the social rights of immigrants, the extent of redistribution to non-native-born persons or both. This shift in policy underlines the new ethnic divide in the politics of welfare reform.

For more on the book please consult the publisher Edvard Elgard.

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