Once again, Ken Clarke ruffles a few feathers by saying it as he sees it. In once sense I agree with him that immigration has a history of being good for the country rather than the reverse. However, someone (was it Milton Friedman?) said that you can choose between unlimited immigration or universal welfare but both would bankrupt the country. I put a comment to that effect (without quoting my source as I am not certain I am crediting the right person). This received the following response from Michael Mouse:
Actually you probably can’t have either without bankrupting the country.
Unrestricted immigration is catastrophic in all sorts of ways, while a benefit system based on the idea of “need”, rather than contribution is packed with peverse incentives to bad and reckless behaviour. There is no more reason to behave prudently if you will be rewarded for folly than there is to drive carefully if you do not pay for your own insurance, it destroys personal responsibility.
This all makes a great deal of sense but is he right? Let me say straight away that (as always, sadly) I’m not sure.
The problem with contribution based welfare is that the ones that really need it (in my view) are the ones who will never be able to pay any contributions. They are those who are in the miserable position of being born with a serious disability or who contract an incurable and disabling disease in childhood. The only way to deal with these is because they have a real need and we, as a society, feel that they should be treated in a compassionate way rather than left on a handy hill top.
But if there is one group that has a need that we are willing to meet, would we (should we) fail to meet the needs of others just because they do not have the right number of premium payments?
So I would postulate that the problem is in determining need and when need is found deciding on the correct social response in that particular case. This is difficult to organise, open to abuse and, let’s face it, can be humiliating. The alternative is that we go broke – here I feel Michael is right. Perhaps the humiliation is the price we have to pay to ensure that those in genuine need get it but the process is sufficiently rigorous to avoid Micheal’s “peverse incentives to bad and reckless behaviour.”
There would be bad cases. There are always bad cases. We must always remember that bad cases make bad law – as has been demonstrated on many occasions in the past.
Oh, a final thought. If someone in this country is a foreign national, then it would be reasonable to say that their only “need” would be a free ticket back to their home country (unless they were political refugees, of course). Would the EU wear that one? I doubt it.