London Enriched: The research behind the report
Ben Gidley is a senior researcher at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS). He is primarily working on projects around integration and cohesion. His research interests include the impact of new forms of diversity on local contexts in the UK; both new and old forms of intolerance and conviviality; and the politics of migrant citizenship and belonging, both today and historically.
As reported by MRN, the Greater London Authority (GLA) has this month published the Year 2 Implementation Plan for London Enriched, the Mayor’s refugee and migrant integration strategy. In Year 1, London Enriched focused on refugee integration. The Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at Oxford University wrote the evidence base that informed the development of the Year 2 plan. At the end of our report, there was a “framework of interventions”, setting out some of the areas of possible action suggested by the evidence. Some of these areas have helped shape the GLA’s priorities for the coming year. There are eight major themes in the implementation plan, with a number of priorities and objectives set out under each. In this post, we will not look at all of these, but instead focus on a few areas which we think are particularly important.
English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)
The Mayor’s first core objective continues to be ESOL, and ensuring access to appropriate tuition for those who need it. The Mayor has long emphasised the importance of English for the full participation of migrants, and this is something both supported by many politicians and by the academic literature. The evidence is clear on the centrality of language to the possibility of integration in all spheres – but not on what sort of provision works best or represents good value for money. One element that stands out from research is the importance of access to classes in places and at times migrants can attend, particularly for those groups of migrants identified in the literature as most in need of provision: the overlapping categories of women, carers, low-paid workers and part-time workers, as well as pre-entry learners. Despite national policy insistence on migrants’ duty to learn English, there is an enormous shortfall of places, especially in the capital and contracting opportunities for migrants to access tuition.
Thus our report concluded that there is an urgency to the requirement for a better understanding of the supply and demand of ESOL in London – and, following from this, negotiating for appropriate resources to meet the capital’s need, from employers as well as from central government. The implementation plan recognises this, in setting out to continue advocating for ESOL as a priority for skills investment in London, in order to develop a “diverse ESOL offer... at the level, times and locations that meet the needs of refugees, women, pre-entry learners and low paid workers”.
The Mayor’s theme around employment includes some very important related actions. First, there is the promotion of the London Living Wage. This is a commitment that Boris Johnson signed up to when campaigning for election as Mayor, and part of the London Citizens’ charter, along with the regularisation or earned amnesty of undocumented workers. London’s migrant population is highly polarised, with a dependency on migrant labour at both the top and bottom of the scale. At the bottom of the economy, migrants, regular and irregular, are concentrated in vulnerable employment and at risk from poor employment practices. Regularisation and the Living Wage together provide a mechanism to reduce this sort of precariousness and exploitation, to reduce destitution, and according to some analysts reduce the slight negative impact of migrant labour on low-skilled non-migrant wages and employment.
However, London Enriched goes further too, in also advocating for stronger standards, information and enforcement, including the extension of regulation in some of the sectors where the evidence shows that migrant labour is concentrated, such as construction and hospitality. Such sectors, crucial in London's economy, have high levels of agency sub-contracting and are currently outside schemes such as the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. The plan includes an impact assessment and consultation around extending regulation in these sectors. For those concerned with migrants’ rights in London, this is clearly one to watch.
Even where there is not poor employment practice or below Living wage pay, migrants face barriers in the workplace. Our evidence base noted the need for employment support targeted at the actual needs of migrants: personalised, holistic and developmental, with an emphasis on sustainable employment rather than simply numbers into jobs; the evidence suggests that employment retention and underemployment may be as important issues for migrants as actual employment rates. Hence targeted employment support, focusing on improving quality of provision and monitoring actual outcomes for migrants, is another significant element in the implementation of the Mayor’s action strategy.
Community development, cohesion and communication
The Mayor’s definition of integration closely follows that set out in many European policy debates – e.g. in the definition set out in the Eurocities charter on integration launched at City Hall in London last year – and in the European academic literature. This definition understands integration as occurring in a series of different spheres – the labour market, social life, political life and so on – underpinned by the legal foundations for migrants’ and citizens’ rights and responsibilities. It also understands integration as a dynamic, two-way process, rather than in terms of the ideal of an ultimate “integrated society” or in terms of a migrant’s duty to integrate.
In the academic literature, civic participation is one of the key spheres of integration. Correspondingly, community development is one of the Mayor’s key themes in the plan. In our evidence base, we set out the evidence for the importance both of a thriving migrant and refugee community organisation (MRCO) sector and of migrants being able to engage in wider civil society. The government’s Big Society agenda includes both opportunities and threats for the sector, and in the period of fiscal austerity MRCOs will be experiencing the cutting edge of the contradiction between an increased role for civil society and decreased resources available to support it. Both of these dimensions are recognised in the Mayor’s plan, which includes a commitment to work with a range of partners to ensure MRCO access to funding.
Migrants’ civic participation is of course related to attitudes in the receiving society, and both of these are involved in community cohesion, another of the Mayor’s priority areas. In reviewing the evidence on cohesion, we suggested that the challenge is very different in what have been called the “new contact zones” where migration’s demographic diversity is being experienced for the first time. Our demographic review showed huge variations in London’s demographic landscape, with many parts of the outer city seeing fairly low numbers of migrants, but larger changes in the proportion of the population who are migrants. Consequently, the Mayor’s strategy highlights “community cohesion in outer London boroughs (or ‘new contact zones’)” and the need to identify and promote models for working in such areas.
Communication – the messages London’s leaders articulate about migrants and integration – is central to this, including taking concerns seriously while developing a positive narrative. Hence “messaging” – “a coherent and consistent message on migration in London” – is one of the final commitments in the Implementation Plan.
Arguably, the objectives set out in London Enriched – the strong commitment to regularisation and a living wage, advocating for investment in ESOL and in MCROs, and making the London case about the threats of caps on particular categories of migrants – are both practical tasks, but also send out a clear message about the importance of migrants to London. Depite the external factors constraining the GLA's priorities, in particular the tightening of resources and the national policy landscape, the plan is strongly based on the evidence we provided, and reflects the key issues facing migrants in the capital.