A new report has found that EU nationals rarely claim benefits to which they are entitled, and has highlighted the concerns of employers already facing a labour shortage ahead of Brexit.
Take-up of benefits is low among EU migrants
The report focuses on Fenland, an area of Cambridgeshire with a large population of EU migrants, and was presented at a national conference in London today entitled 'Modern slavery and migration in rural areas: the impacts'.
Researchers from Buckinghamshire New University, in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and the Rosmini Centre, a community organisation based in Wisbech, surveyed 220 migrants for the report. The research also examined previous literature, media coverage, and undertook qualitative interviews with migrants, voluntary sector agencies, health and education professionals and employers.
Most migrant workers in the study area were Lithuanian, Romanian or Bulgarian, and around half had arrived in the UK in 2018. Around three quarters said they intended to stay in the UK permanently. More than 70% of those surveyed were employed, more than half by agencies.
The study found that take up of benefits was very low among the survey respondents, with around 53% of those surveyed having no knowledge of available benefits. Only 4% of people without dependents were in receipt of some form of benefit and only 26% of migrants with children are claiming child benefit.
The majority of those employed worked in factories. Employers who took on migrant workers reported labour shortages that pre-dated the EU referendum, with some citing the stronger economies in EU accession countries as one of the reasons. However, there was concern that Brexit would exacerbate the issue, and the report recommends targeted efforts to encourage UK-born workers to fill the gaps.
Employers reported a language barrier as the main issue with employing migrant workers, and some stated that they had noticed a deterioration in the language and skills levels of many recent migrants. The report observed that the long working hours of many migrants were a barrier to learning English.
Health and Education professionals also highlighted that language barriers could impact use of services, although a range of innovative and well received practices do exist in school and healthcare settings to engage and positively meet the needs of children and families.
The role of information and advice centres and voluntary sector agencies was highlighted as key to breaking down barriers, and ensuring that migrant workers were informed about their rights and entitlements, so as to minimise risks of exploitation, for example relating to residence in unfit housing.
The report also found that community cohesion was not as problematic as portrayed by the media, but long working hours and accommodation in housing of multiple occupation did mean that some groups were not used to socialising outside of those environments.
Lead researcher Professor Margaret Greenfields, of Bucks New University, said: “This important study contradicts much negative media publicity pertaining to the impacts of migration at the local level.
“This study has clearly highlighted the importance of migrant labour to the local economy and growing levels of integration, often enhanced by the relationships which form when children of migrant workers enter school.
“We would stress however that it is important not to become complacent, particularly in relation to the poor accommodation conditions experienced by many migrant workers in housing of multiple occupation or shared properties, which can have considerable impacts on health and wellbeing of individuals and families in such circumstances.”
Co-author Dr Eglė Dagilytė, Senior Lecturer in Law at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “Given the large number of migrant workers who indicated a desire to settle permanently in the UK, we found there was a clear need for stakeholders to continue to advise and educate them and their families about the importance of preparing for Brexit under the EU Settlement Scheme.
“In particular, some vulnerable people are at risk of becoming illegally resident and hence can be in danger of deportation, especially as in the case of the no-deal scenario the deadline for applications is six months shorter than in the deal-case scenario.”
Dr David Smith, Reader in the School of Education and Social Care at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), added: “Employers and labour providers in Wisbech have already experience difficulties in meeting labour demands due to a decline in migrant labour which pre-dates the 2016 referendum. Views were mixed on the likely impact of Brexit.
“Migrants out of work and not studying full time in the main did not receive benefits. Even many people entitled to child benefit were not claiming them. Awareness of eligibility appears to be poor among new arrivals.”
The full report on migrant labour in Fenland can be viewed here. A linked report examining slavery in the area has also been published.
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