Family-oriented policies in Scandinavia and the challenge of immigration
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionJournal of European Social Policy. 2016, 27 (1), 77-89. 10.1177/0958928716673315
The social political debate on immigration as a challenge to the welfare states has been remarkably silent on gender and family issues. This article argues that immigrants’ use of welfare benefits targeted at families may be particularly problematic, because such benefits embody certain normative tensions that other social policies do not. It is suggested that tensions may be particularly high in Scandinavia, given the Scandinavian countries’ long-term commitment to facilitating employment for women. What happens when immigrants in the Scandinavian countries use policies targeted at families to maintain gender-complimentary family practices and home-based motherhood? Will such practices be met by reforms that streamline benefits around the principle of universal employment? The article highlights policy arrangements that have been described as detrimental to immigrant women’s employment in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and reviews whether they have been reformed in recent years and, where relevant, what arguments have been used to motivate reforms. The analysis shows that many of the relevant benefits recently have been reformed to become less accommodating of home-based care work. However, politics clearly matter, and it is not given that immigrants’ use of benefits will always be a trump card. Also, dynamics vary according to how controversial the welfare arrangement in question was before it was highlighted as an immigrant issue. A third finding is that even when benefit arrangements that have been highlighted as particularly detrimental to immigrant women’s employment are targeted, politicians often downplay the integration issue when arguing for reform.