Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Supporting Migrant Communities in Reading

This afternoon I  was invited to speak at a conference organised by South East England Councils on the subject of housing and migration. The conference was called 'Housing the SoutEast: Opportunities & challenges.' Below are excerpts from my presentation.

One of the things I love about living in Reading is its diversity. I am not from Reading,. I moved here to take up a job in the town - and I am not alone in this.

Reading has enjoyed record migration from many parts of the world - this has enriched the town and provided many businesses and sectors with access to much needed skills. The recent Place Survey which was carried out in 2009 found that people in Reading tend to be very comfortable living alongside people from different backgrounds - this is a real plus point about Reading and one of the reasons Reading is such a popular place to live.

International migration to Reading

As the Centre for Cities has recognised Reading is a vibrant place with a dynamic economy which attracts migration from both inside and outside the UK. Reading access to a highly-skilled workforce is one of the reasons global businesses like to base themselves in the Reading area and there is no doubt that migration has had a very positive impact on our economic performance as a town.
Annual population surveys suggest that 25% of the residents in Reading were not born in the UK Since 2004 there has been a substantial flow of economic migrants in to the borough. Official statistics show that most migrants were male between the ages of 18024 and were predominantly from Eastern Europe ( 60% from Poland alone). In 2009 ethnic minority pupils made up 45% of the school population up from 27% in 2004. In addition to Eastern European, Nepalese is a growing community in Reading. And in 2008 migrant workers accounted for 14 out of every 1000 people in Reading.
My brief presentation today focussed on the impact of migration on housing.

Impact on housing and the community

In Reading there has been little impact on social housing as migrant workers are not able to apply until employed for 12 months. One issue officers have identified has been an increase in overcrowding of HMOs, and tenants accepting poor quality accommodation. We have also seen an increase in rough sleeping - 38 % of rough sleepers have been Eastern European. There have also been some problems around anti-social behaviour and street drinking. Other impacts have included an increased need for translation services and higher demands placed on health and education services.

How has the Council responded?
  • A Polish speaking officer has been employed 2 days a week at the main customer service desk at the Civic Centre to provide advice and information to new arrivals in Reading.
  • A welcome pack has been produced aimed at new arrivals (this includes information on tenant rights/expected standards of accomodation).
  • Immigration advice provided by Citizens Advice Bureau has been grant funded by the Council
  • A Polish Saturday School has been funded by the Council
Housing Interventions
  • We have increased inspections and enforcement in the private rented sector (in particular in relation to overcrowding inspections)
  • Rough sleeping has been challenged - including using a Polish speaking worker in outreach team
The Reading 2020 Partnership successfully bid for funding from government via the Migration Impact Fund. Ths has helped us to invest in front end services to help support integration. This activity is still ongoing.

Current initiatives

The Council is continuing to invest in community development and outreach in Polish communities in Reading. In addition this week the Council pledged to grant fund to community groups £45,000 to provide much-needed advice services to Reading's growing Nepalese community A range of other activities are planned.

Looking to the future

Due to the economic downturn the number of economic migrants has decreased but in the longer term it is predicted that pressures on school places and housing in Reading will continue.
The Council has recently introduced a flexible approach to grant funding community groups which will enable us to support communities to support themselves. Funding will be based on transparent criteria so that different communities  and groups have an equal chance of accessing funding. We will continue to enforce standards in the private rented sector to ensure everyone has access to decent housing.

Housing Advice

At the conference I was recommended this website aimed at new arrivals in the UK and people looking for clear information about housing rights for migrant workers and others. This website is also a useful source of information for anyone who is in housing need in the UK.

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