Brexit, London and Eastern Europeans – after meeting new Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement

Today we met Matthew Ryder, a new Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement for Greater London. Matthew helps the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to forward the agenda of integration, mobility and engagement of Londoners.

We presented key areas of concern that we believe would have the biggest impact on Eastern Europeans living in London in the run up and after the Brexit.

Eastern Europeans, Brexit and London – we want to see:

  • improved protection from worker exploitation: making sure that Eastern Europeans feel free to engage with the formal job market and execute their worker rights is fundamental for our communities, the London society as a whole and London as a hub of enterprise. As of now we don’t see effective mechanisms mitigating worker exploitation in the run up and after the Brexit.
  • improved hate crime and hate speech response: encouraging Eastern Europeans to report hate crime and hate incidents is crucial for making sure that community relations in London are not threatened by poison of racism and intimidation. Hate crime takes place in the close environment of victims: at work, in school, on a local bus, between neighbours – our users report difficulty in not only reporting incidents but also maintaining relationship with the police; the police response is not satisfactory. The risk of building walls between Eastern Europeans and the police service will have impact for many years to come.
  • improved access to formal labour market: it has been some time since funding for English – for – work classes has been massively reduced. The same goes for employability support for migrant workers who, forced by lack of information and advice, settle for the first job coming their way. It’s bad news for London, Londoners and Eastern Europeans who often are the victims of this neglect. Ignoring needs of labour market entrants from Eastern Europe – the backbone of low-paid but necessary sectors fuelling the London’s economy – result in worker exploitation and fundamental unfairness and injustice. Not to mention tax evasion and other lost opportunities for London and the country as a whole.
  • improved integration efforts in schools: Eastern European children have been one of the key victims of the Brexit campaign. Reports to EERC on racially motivated bullying, abuse and intimidation in London schools have jumped after the referendum by approx. 500%. Our concern is that those children who have been victims of racist bullying will grow up to be hurt adult residents. The impact of neglect today is conflicted communities tomorrow.
  • improved training for frontline staff of statutory services: from housing teams in London boroughs to Job Centres to central agencies we have observed that Brexit has been becoming a reality in too many ways, before even becoming a real thing. Our users tell us about DWP telephone line staff telling them not to bother about benefits because they ‘would have to leave the UK eventually, wouldn’t they?’ or about housing benefit departments enforcing new policies on eligibility that cannot be disclosed. Eastern Europeans have been, are and will be members of the London family. Brexit shouldn’t be an excuse for poor training of staff that has a say on individual cases, on people’s individual welfare and wellbeing.

Some effects of the campaign and political process of Brexit are compounded by the Immigration Act 2016. Statutory services, enforcement agencies, landlords, doctors, nurses, employers – all these people have become immigration enforcement officers in relation to Right to Rent, Right to Work and right to health care. London must make sure it stays an open city – open to enterprise, progress and success. How we tackle impact of Brexit together with impact of the Immigration Act 2016 becomes of overarching importance to all Eastern Europeans in London – and for London itself, a home to half a million Eastern Europeans.

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