It's sad to see that Ed Miliband is planning to reduce out-of-work benefits for young Brits, especially as they're most likely to be at the sharp end of the jobs market, losing out to older people with more experience. I also don't think that the discriminating between people with different qualifications - those with below a certain level won't get anything unless in a training scheme - is fair and nor will it increase support for welfare. It will be another reason for people to see that some are provided for and some aren't, so prompting a question of why we should all pay in. This, like many other welfare policies coming from all the main parties, seems to be based in the idea that fairness can only be judged in terms of avoiding the 'something for nothing' narratives that permeate tabloid discussion of benefits. However, what these narratives fail to see is that any fairness needs to be judged over a lifetime: indeed the talk of 'insurance' seems to forget how insurance actually works.
At least part of the motivation for talking about contribution and insurance is the issue of migration, and EU migration in particular. If EU citizens can move to another EU state whenever they like, and be subject to the same rules as those who are already there, then there's nothing to stop people being in one place to take advantage of low taxes, another for high welfare, and another for better health care and so on. For fairness to truly exist in this would require either a uniform system across the EU, or a de-territorialisation such that each person would remain a member of a particular system wherever they were living. This latter option would mean thinking about what citizenship, in the broad sense of the word (taxes, policing, voting, benefits, passport, membership), would cover.
What movement in space draws attention to, however, is a problem of time. Much of the debate on migrants and the NHS and benefits is focused on how long a person should be in the UK before they are eligible for healthcare and the dole. Should it be the day they arrive, 2 years, 5 years, on getting a passport, or never? And what do we do about people who arrive from elsewhere but have a British passport? Should 21 year olds who've always lived here get benefits before they've done a day's work?
What I would point out is that comparisons to insurance should be reminding us of two things. First, insurance does imply people contributing and getting nothing out, and others contributing less and getting lots out: insurance is supposed to iron out luck and bad luck. Second, insurance starts from day 1: it's possible to buy a car, insure it, and crash it on the same day, and then get the pay out.
We can't predict how someone will fare in the future. A teenager who claims benefits might then get a job and pay far more in. Someone who works for a few years from 18-22 may well then never work again. Many people pay in for a state pension, and then die before they get old enough to claim it. Similarly, the migrant who arrives and claims benefits might then get a job and pay in for decades, and another might pay in for a few years, then claim benefits for many years. For justice, what we are really interested in is stopping people playing the system. This would require a much better idea of people's trajectories, motivations, and so on, but this is probably impossible. It's also part of some of the longer term approaches to these issues: even back in 1996 I was subject to a 'habitual residence test', such that a few months out of the UK made me ineligible for UK benefits. These kind of predictions are just too difficult to do, so instead politicians of all stripes resort to simplistic categorisations, whether justice is served or not.
Running through much of my work is the argument that mainstream (and liberal?) politicians are obsessed with race and racism, to the extent that analysis and explanation becomes racist itself. In essence, I think explanations which invoke ethnicity/culture/religion as a primary cause are almost always partial and often mistaken. This is for two reasons, I think. One is that how a particular ethnicity/culture/religion plays out in a place (whether country, town, or neighbourhood), or institution (whether school, place of worship, family, and more) is highly contingent. We could examine an attribute such as 'Englishness', 'Muslimness', 'Geordieness', 'white working classness', or whatever, but these are expressed in different ways in different places. We don't know if X is caused by or even correlated with Y, as opposed to the particular version of Y we are examining. Second, and related, we can cut up society in different ways and can find explanations or correlations for other attributes. Some we can dismiss as trivial (shoe size, hair colour), others have explanatory power (e.g. age, gender) but don't seem to be as interesting to many politicians and analysts as 'race', 'ethnicity' and so on, and these others might be the actual causes that lie behind correlations and explanations that invoke culture. The attributes we use for analysis often say more about the conceptual framework we start from than any eventual findings.
Furthermore, even if we ignore the above reservations we find that ethnicity/culture/religion doesn't account for much. So when someone says that group X is more likely than group Y to be racist, for example, it doesn't mean that all of group X are racist and none of group Y are. Indeed, the group differences are often very small indeed, and are subsumed by the differences within these groups. What statisticians would call 'unexplained variation' is very high, and it is often assumed that there are other things at play that we don't or can't know about. It seems obvious that these things will include personality, as how someone approaches life will have a bearing on how life plays out, and individual circumstances, and here I'm interested in this with regards to migrant 'integration'.
There is psychological work on this, under the rubric of 'acculturation' (although I haven't found any from the UK), but, as ever, sociologists don't engage with it and vice versa. Furthermore, one critique I'd have, is that the psychological work seems to assume that the migrant unproblematically brings a culture with them, fully formed (see Chirkov 2009 for a similar argument). Thinking about what I would be like (hypothetically) as a migrant, though, it's not so clear cut: some things I'd take with me (drinking tea with milk, and bitter) and others I may well deliberately try to change, depending on where I was going (social formality - i.e. the kind of English awkwardness that means we don't know whether to shake hands or just to nod hello). It's anecdotal evidence I have here, but I'd wager that personality or outlook has more of an impact than 'ethnic' or religious background...
I live in a place where migrant integration comes easily. There's none of the poverty and disenfranchisement that can set people up against each other, regardless of background. Nor are there any of the geographic processes - white flight, self-segregation or rapid change - which can end up with separation by distance and the possibility of not having the opportunity or inclination to engage with the so-called 'other'. There's little of the discomfort that comes with 'separate lives' or of one 'culture' dominating over another. But even here, some people integrate and others don't, and religious, cultural or socioeconomic factors don't explain why.
A few years ago, two new families with kids moved in. One was from Arab north Africa, the other from India. One family was Muslim - with the parents being religious - the other Hindu. Both families were in the UK for a few years for work, and in both cases it was the dad who was working (and already spoke good English) while the mum was at home with small children (and didn't speak English). The family from India had one pre-school child, while the other family had baby born while here and two older children in the early years of primary school. It may well have been this latter fact that was the most important.
For Fatima, the mother from north Africa, kids, the 'school gates' and, above all, her outgoing personality made integration happen. She spoke no English on arrival, but the children learnt very quickly, and she picked it up from them and from watching daytime TV. When her children were walking home with classmates, or playing out, she'd talk to the other parents, slowly at first, and apologetic about her English. After a while this turned into conversations about the Arab Spring, how to control boisterous 5-year-old boys, Moshi Monsters, their lifestyle back home. Having the courage, or having no say in it, she got past language barriers, and ended up hanging out with everyone else - nights in with other mums, while the dads babysat, trips to kids parties, playgrounds and so on.
The other mum, though, seemed shy. She stayed at home with the child and didn't say much beyond hello. No-one really got to know her or her bloke, and we didn't really notice when they left after a few years. By that time the child was old enough to play out, but rarely did, and the mum still didn't seem to speak much English - perhaps she lacked the confidence to use that English she had, or was just shy. She only really engaged with her family.
When Fatima and her family left we held a leaving do with food, drink, sunshine, and a dozen kids playing football. The ethno-religious/cultural models would have predicted that Fatima - religious Muslim, veiled - would have been less likely to integrate than the other mum, but that's not how it played out. Personality and life stage played a much bigger part. A long time ago, when working on ideas of social capital, I suggested a good measure would be how many people came to a person's funeral: it only works at death though, so perhaps a 'leaving do' measure can work for the living.
It's been around 15 months since I posted here, and it's almost entirely because I've had a job. I've been writing a lot, however. I've completed 6 reports for the EC funded RAGE project, of about 6-8000 words each, and there's some good work in them, and also presented my research at 4 events of the past 6 months. I've been busy, and it's kind of taken it out of me to write anything else. However, the events of the past few weeks - and especially the 'Trojan Horse' case - mean that my 'hype thesis' seems to get more and more evidence to support it. Once again, the idea of extremism (and it's all about risk and threat, not actual extremism) is being used as a political football, and ends up with bullying behaviour from the government. And in this, I include a similar bullying of white working class people too, who are also portrayed as having a culture that is uniquely susceptible to violent extremism, despite evidence to the contrary. I'll be writing a number of pieces about this, but I'm going to start with some thoughts about integration.