VARIOUS TEXTS: Text: Immigrants Caught between the Benefit Culture and Hard Work

On present trends, around 6 million of the 8 million increase in population will move to London and the southeast. For all the problems which immigration on the pre-1980s scale caused - the Notting Hill and Brixton riots were the most obvious example of racial tensions - the sheer scale of these increases is of a different order from anything that has gone before and it is difficult to predict with certainty what impact this will have. There is a lazy assumption that it must, of necessity, cause deep-seated and irreversible1 friction. But it need not necessarily be this way.

When an issue appears to be at its most intractable2, it almost always pays dividends to turn to the writings of Milton Friedman. Professor Friedman, as was his habit, summed up the real issue in ten words: 'You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.' If the opportunity exists to move from an area paying negligible3 benefits to one paying relatively lavish benefits, then the decision to go to where the benefits are higher is what is best termed a 'no brainer'4. But sensible debate on immigration has become impossible because we confuse those who want to work - those who move in order to better themselves - with those who merely want to take advantage of better benefits, and we damn both groups equally. By far the most corrosive5 cause of bad race relations is the immigrant who lives off the state. The main lesson from the rise of extremist fringe parties in Europe and the growing success of the British National Party (BNP) in garnering6 support in areas with large immigrant populations is that if mainstream parties ignore the issues that the electorate thinks matter, voters either stay away from the polls altogether or turn to the parties which do talk about them.

The British are, by their nature, a tolerant people. We have a proud tradition of giving a welcome to those who want to better their lot. My own ancestors did just that at the end of the nineteenth century. They came here to escape the pogroms and to work, and were fiercely proud that, having arrived with nothing, they built themselves good lives through their own efforts. That is the British tradition. And we should be similarly welcoming to their successors, new immigrants who are similarly committed to a new life and who want to better themselves through hard work. We will all benefit from their industry and enterprise. Icons of British life such as fish and chips, the Mini and Marks & Spencer all emanate from immigrants to the UK. Such enterprise and hard work have long been the engines which have driven the US to its astonishing wealth and prosperity.

But there is a fundamental contradiction between the approach and the benefits7 culture which has taken hold in the UK, which means that unproductive immigrants who come here in order to live off the state have poisoned the well8 even for those whom we should welcome.

Economics and rationality tend to fly out of the window when confronted with immigration. It is almost impossible to talk about the benefits of immigration without being regarded as hopelessly liberal and naive. In the early 1990s, the British government refused to grant visas to the Hong Kong Chinese almost entirely because of the political calculation that the public would not stomach another mass influx of immigrants. Yet that was, on any calculation, a major economic blunder. Vancouver, which welcomed 230,000 people from Hong Kong between 1991 and 1996, has reaped the rewards ever since. It is the British economy which lost out, not the migrants.

In this context, the Danish election of 2001 was fascinating. The political climate there there was much like that in Britain, in that there was a deep and growing fear of immigration. The centre-right Liberal Party focused on immigration as the main election issue. But instead of the usual anti-immigration rhetoric, it turned on its head the main concern of electors, that immigrants are somehow a leech on the state, and in doing so won an unexpected victory. Denmark, it said, should welcome immigrants. But for their first seven years they should receive no state benefits of any kind, other than schooling for their children and emergency health care. And that, more or less, was that. Such an approach squared the immigration circle9. It permitted the gains which immigrants can bring to a country; it dealt with the problem of benefit leeches10 (as the party leader and Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, put it during the Danish election campaign: 'Denmark must not be the social security office for the rest of the world'); and it neutralized the far right's racist arguments. Since immigrants could only prosper through their own efforts and the economy would prosper with them, there would be no rational reason not to welcome them.

The benefits of such an approach are more than economic. As the US experience shows, the greater the premium placed on work, the easier it is for immigrants to assimilate and be accepted.
851 words

From: Ten Days that Changed the Nation - The Making of Modern Britain by Stephen Pollard, pp. 17-20; Simon & Schuster, London, 2009

1. irreversible - unumkehrbar
2. intractable - unlösbar
3. negligible -geringfügig
4. that's a no-brainer - das versteht sich von selbst
5. corrosive -zertörerisch
6. to garner - gewinnen (Unterstützung)
7. benefits - Sozialleistungen
8. well - Quelle
9. to square the circle - die Quadratur des Kreises
10. leeches - Blutsauger, Blutegel

1. Explain in your own words Friedman's thesis: 'You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.'
2. Why did Britain's National Party gain so much support among the British population?
3. What immigrants, according to the author, should the government permit to immigrate to Britain and what measures should it take to keep out 'wrong' immigrants?
4. Look out for two examples of figurative language and explain them in your own words.
5. Compare Britain's immigrant population with that of Germany's.

amazon.de Ten Days That Changed the Nation: The Making of Modern Britain
Stephen Pollard

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