As we know, the government’s policy about what happens in cities and neighbourhoods is based on its principles of ‘localism’ and encouraging the ‘Big Society’. On the other hand, its policies on migration are essentially national ones – cutting net migration and introducing a whole raft of detailed changes in the different kinds of migration status and in migrants’ entitlements to services.
Where localism meets migration policy is of course – or should be – in government plans about integrating migrants and tackling issues of community cohesion in neighbourhoods where migrants are living. Here there is a huge gap. The previous government’s modest Migration Impacts Fund has finished and their refugee and migrant integration policies no longer apply. A new policy on integration generally is promised, but so far we only have speeches by ministers to go on. These have often been more worrying than reassuring, in seeing the issues not as ones of neighbourhood integration but very much in terms of addressing Muslim extremism – which is, to say the least, taking a limited view of the pressures that occur in places where new migrants have settled.
So there is a leadership gap – who will address the everyday problems that exist both for new migrants and for the neighbourhoods where they live? For the last two years the Housing and Migration Network has been looking at ‘leadership’ as one of a range of issues, and has now published a ‘Viewpoint’ paper about addressing the leadership ‘gap’. As part of the argument, it shows how housing organisations have played key roles and could potentially do more.
A prime example is from the North West, where the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) acts as co-ordinator both for asylum dispersal and for migrant integration across eleven different local authorities. The region has delivered about two-thirds of the placements of refugees under the Gateway Protection Programme, as well as accommodating significant numbers of asylum seekers. Financial resources from asylum dispersal contracts helped ‘glue together’ the partnerships needed to deliver these arrangements and to carry out wider neighbourhood integration work. This included supporting Refugee Action as the regional partner, as well as a range of links with small, community-based groups. Housing providers have had a lead role in many of the initiatives.
Could leadership examples like this be replicated elsewhere? Of course, there already are examples in other regions and in Scotland and Wales too, but there are a number of new challenges. One is the pernicious effect of the spending cuts, which not only means services are reduced or withdrawn but that it becomes even more controversial to respond to migrants’ needs. At the same time, cuts in services clearly lead to tensions, which might result in conflict between communities (that so far – even in the recent riots – seems to have been avoided).
Another threat is the changes in asylum dispersal contracts, which are increasingly going to private companies rather than social landlords. This makes it unlikely that any surpluses will be invested in integration work, as they have been up until now in Greater Manchester and elsewhere.
But even in this climate, housing organisations have a particular role and more organisations could build on the experience that others have. The needs that exist in neighbourhoods where migrants have settled are no less urgent: tackling issues of neighbourhood quality (the ‘crime and grime’ issues that can easily be blamed on newcomers), changes in local housing markets and their effects, new pressures on local facilities, addressing the lack of jobs and skills. Housing providers can and do have a role in these and other issues.
Finally, in many areas migrants are still struggling to build their own local organisations, to provide advice services to new arrivals and help in neighbourhood integration. Housing providers, who often have experience of working with and fostering residents’ organisations, can help here too. They may be able to support community groups with training, office space or perhaps secondments. They may be able to broker their membership of wider networks or help them secure grants.
Even if overall levels of migration fall as a result of government policy – and it is far from certain that they will – the effects of recent migration are here to stay. Many places are going through a process of change: migration may be only one of the factors but it can be a critical and sensitive one. Because of their role in neighbourhoods, housing providers are uniquely placed both to recognise the issues and to act on them. The paper published this week aims to encourage more of them to do it.
Original post and comments: Migration Pulse