A comparison/contrast between social security benefits available to immigrants coming to live in France and immigrants coming to live in the United Kingdom.
In the first instance, it is important to point-out that social security benefits available to citizens and residents of France and the United Kingdom are already widely different. The taxes paid by ordinary citizens in France are on average 20% higher than those paid by residents of the United Kingdom, and the government therefore takes charge of a broader range of social security benefits such as, for example, in health care; glasses and contact lenses are reimbursed 100% in France, unlike in the United Kingdom. It is therefore not surprising that immigrants arriving in France are given a wider range of social security benefits than those arriving in the United Kingdom.
This said, the range of social security benefits available are similar in both countries, if varying in quality. They include; health-care, education, to use public services such as police and emergency services, pensions, redundancy pay, job seeker’s allowance and working tax credits. The right to belong to a workers union, a political party and to an efficient public transport system are also rights but do not necessarily fall under the social security benefits category in the sense we will be exploring here. By law, these are inalienable rights, that can also be called human rights, that all residents and citizens of European countries are entitled to, whatever their race, religion or country of origin. Immigrants however, who in many cases are not citizens, residents, or sometimes even in a country legally, are in an uncertain position when it comes to social security benefits which is worth analysing to understand it’s full complexity.
France and the United Kingdom have varying attitudes when it comes to immigration, and this has influenced the way in which their respective governments allocate social security benefits. France, for example, is famous among immigrant populations for it’s lenience towards immigrants and general openness to the arrival of new populations and ethnic groups. This transpires in their social security benefit allocation; newly arrived immigrants on any part of the French territory are entitled by law to the same benefits as any other French citizen if they are registered as residing in France, have a ‘carte de sejour’ and are not illegal immigrants. This question of illegality is one we shall explore further, but it is worth mentioning now as without legal status, social security benefits are out of the question on both countries.
Children of immigrants have a right to be educated in French schools and must, by law, be registered at a school in their area as soon as they arrive if they are under the age of sixteen. Children of immigrants, in this respect, are more protected under the French system than their parents, and their rights to social security benefits are more easily applicable. If an immigrant is declared as temporarily residing in France for work, and is under contract to a foreign company (the situation changes if it is a French company), the worker must by law be covered by the social security benefits of their employer and are therefore not entitled to French social security benefits. This is however a very specific restriction and is not applicable to immigrants brought from their countries to work for French companies, who are responsible for the welfare of their workforce. France is also more subject than the United Kingdom to European rules and regulation regarding immigration, although such a sensitive subject is still, until further notice, under the principal control of the specific country’s government.
Contrastingly, the United Kingdom’s attitude to the rights of arriving immigrants to social security benefits is rather different. Firstly, it is important to point out that the United Kingdom is a far smaller country than France, territory speaking, which puts higher pressure on its housing and services infrastructures and industries when high concentrations of immigrants arrive. Also, the onus for finding work and justifying their reason for being in the United Kingdom rests entirely on the immigrants, with far less help from the government available than in France. Also, where the rights of the individual are concerned, it can take up to seven year for any one person already living in the United Kingdom to be granted residency or nationality, which limits the right to vote of newly arrived immigrants both in national and local elections. Without being a ‘resident’ in the United Kingdom it is harder to find a job, somewhere to live, and subsequently apply for all kinds of benefits. In a broad sense, it is possible that because it is harder to get into the United Kingdom and obtain English nationality, immigrants have a harder time claiming benefits which legally are theirs for the asking. Perhaps what we can take away from this is that the benefits themselves are not necessarily vastly different, but that the ease with which they can be obtained varies widely.
Income support benefits for immigrants are in stark contrast when allocated in both the United Kingdom and France. Firstly, it is important to note that in France the ‘allocation chaumage’, which is equivalent to the Jobseeker’s allowance, is substantially higher than in the United Kingdom and continues to rise every year. Immigrants are entitled to it once their residency papers are in order and they have signed-up at their local job centre, but because it is often less profitable to work than to remain on the allowance, there is little incentive for them to actively look for work in France. In the United Kingdom, laws have been in place for some time to prevent this from happening; the job seeker’s allowance is only given if the applicant can prove her is she is actively looking for work. If they turn down more than a certain number of job offers, the allowance can be removed, providing an additional incentive. France has recently passed several laws in the Assemblee Nationale to remedy this, and it is hoped it will help reduce the number of immigrant on jobseeker’s allowance, reducing overall the cost of immigration to the State.
Asylum seeking and refugee status is an area where benefits available to immigrants in both France and the UK are comparable. The Migration Watch UK website defines asylum status as: ‘appeals to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal against decisions of the UK Border Agency which are adverse to the applicant.’ Both countries follow European guidelines when it comes to sheltering political refugees, England judges being particularly sensitive at the moment to escapees from Mugabe’s oppressive regime in Zimbabwe, and France a historical ally of the Dalai Lama and therefore home to many exiled Tibetan monks. That said, a recent controversial declaration by a senior government official regarding lawyer so ‘so called’ asylum seeker were abusing the human rights system simply to provide social security benefits for illegal immigrants. There are similar cases in France but they are significantly less high-profile.
Finally, it is important to state that, both for the United Kingdom and for France, an illegal immigrant with no identification, or national insurance number will be able to access very few social security benefits. There are organisations in both countries which are there to provide help such as food, shelter and legal aid to those in the direst poverty, but their ability to assist is limited. The credit crisis will undoubtedly render the situation of illegal immigrants even harder in both countries, making them even less likely to have access to our social security benefits. This is evident through news headlines in the recent months, such as this one from The Times; ‘Immigration to be cut as unemployment soars.’
Yes, immigrants come to Europe to profit from the social security benefits, but it is also the arrival of new immigrants in both France and the United Kingdom which will enable us to pay for our social security in the future. Indeed, one of the biggest comparisons between the French and English social security systems is that they are both in deficit. There is in fact not enough money to go around as the populations of both countries age, then retire, and no longer make contributions to the tax system but in fact use our tax money to draw their pensions. Young immigrants coming to work will be taxed on their earnings and help to pay a substantial part of the social security benefits. This is why, in both France and the United Kingdom, there have been motions for mass legalisation of illegal immigrants so that they become a taxable work-force. Neither country, it must be said, has the resources to control and expulse all illegal immigrants, so making them tax-payers and enabling them to apply for social security benefits seems like the best solution.
Ditch, John. Introduction to Social Security: Policies, Benefits, and Poverty (London, Routledge, 1999)
Rachel Sylvester, Richard Ford, and Alice Thomson. ‘Immigration to be cut as unemployment soars’. The Times, 18th October 2008.
The Concise Oxford French Dictionary, ed. by Abel Chevally (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934)
“UK benefits system linked to immigrant workers says report” http://news.migrationwatch.org.uk/2008/01/uk-benefits-sys.html (22nd November 2008)
Vatz Laaroussi, Michele. Le familial au coeur de l’immigration: les strategies de citoyennete des familles immigrantes au Quebec et en France (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2001).
“30 ans de maitrise des flux migratoires; la politique d’immigration (1974 – 2005)” http://www.vie-publique.fr/politiques-publiques/politique-immigration/index/ (22nd November 2008)