Challenges building cultural cohesion with town’s newer arrivals
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
As part of our series on multiculturalism in Ipswich, we take a look at how cultural differences have posed challenges for new arrivals in the town.
Language problems and cultural differences among migrants in Ipswich have fuelled challenges around community cohesion, authorities say.
Recent studies show the latest surge in immigration, mainly from Eastern Europe, has brought fewer English speakers and more lower skilled workers.
Organisations working with migrant groups say this has led to some tensions within Ipswich communities, often over simple matters such as putting out bins, socialising in groups in the street, and parking.
While survey results show generally positive relations between Suffolk’s settled populations and its migrant groups, organisations claim cultural differences have seen some of the newest arrivals “demonised” unfairly.
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Whereas 79% of migrants surveyed in Suffolk in 2010 felt they had good English skills, just 55% of those surveyed in 2018 were confident about their use of the language. Meanwhile the proportion of migrants with no formal qualifications increased from 26% to 42% in the same period.
This reflects changing patterns of migration – most migrants in 2010 were skilled workers from Poland and India but later years have seen more arrivals from Eastern Europe. Of all National Insurance applications in Suffolk in 2017, 41.3% went to Romanian nationals, Government figures show.
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Around a fifth of migrants surveyed in 2018 did not know what to do with litter, rubbish or recycling, or that hanging around on the street can intimidate some people. Nearly two fifths of migrants did not know when to visit their GP or call 111.
Authorities said these issues can place pressures on public services and demonstrated the importance of English classes and outreach services.
Suffolk Constabulary’s Supt Kerry Cutler, commander for the southern area of Ipswich, acknowledged there had been “issues” around new arrivals in the town, but said much of it related to fears about unfamiliar behaviours.
“Often, it is to do with cultural differences, such as Eastern European men liking to stand around together on the streets to socialise,” she said.
“Then there’s people’s perception of that. Although they’re not doing anything illegal, people feel threatened when they see groups gathering on the streets.”
Supt Cutler said such perceptions of crime had a negative impact on community cohesion.
“They often then feed into what happens and how labels are applied,” she added. “Sometimes problems in a particular area are blamed on a specific group but then when we come to investigate it’s to do with something altogether different.”
She said some concerns over antisocial behaviour could be resolved through simple changes, rather than policing, such as by moving a bench where people had been gathering away from housing.
Some community tensions have arisen through behavioural concerns.
A frequent complaint raised during community meetings in Ipswich is about husks from sunflower seeds, which are a favoured snack for some nationalities, being left on the street. Others include parking and rubbish complaints, rather than crime.
Although less than 1% of migrants in Suffolk rely on benefits and surveys show most people have generally positive views on their contribution to the economy, organisations say there are still prejudices, particularly towards the newer arrivals.
Phanuel Mutumburi, of the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, said the Roma community had become the latest scapegoats.
“There is a lot of unfair criticism,” he said. “Yes there are challenges but, actually, what we’ve noticed is they’ve become the bogeymen for all the ills that are happening in our society.”
Mr Mutumburi said the Roma people had been demonised not only by the native population, but also by members of more established migrant groups.
“Any problems that happen are attributed to that community, more often with no evidence,” he said.
National studies have found no supporting evidence for the view that migrants cause more crime.
The Migrant Advisory Committee published a report on EEA Migration in the UK in September, which looked at various effects of immigration.
The study concluded “there is no evidence that migration has affected crime”.
Views on migration in Suffolk are more positive than in other parts of the UK, surveys show.
According to a 2018 survey of 100 UK nationals living in Suffolk, 74% of respondents said they felt the impact of migration had been positive on their area, compared with 16% who said it was negative.
In comparison, the British Social Attitudes survey found just 40% of people felt migration was good.
Suffolk people also felt migration had been good for the economy (70%) and culturally (61%). When it came to its impact on public services, however, just 24% of people felt it had reduced pressures compared with 43% who said it had increased. But those concerned by the impact were more likely to blame funding than migrants.
Migrants in Suffolk also held positive views about their new home – 79% said they were satisfied, compared with 2% dissatisfied. Of those surveyed, 89% agreed they got on well with people from other backgrounds.
Migrant drop-in service
A drop-in service has helped thousands of migrants overcome challenges affecting new arrivals.
The service, which has been running since 2010 across the county, but is best used in Ipswich, provides advice in migrants’ native language on issues such as housing, benefits, education, employment, and health.
Since 2017 the service has been run by Great Yarmouth Refugee and Outreach Support Limited (GYROS), which was awarded the contract using funding through the Controlling Migration Fund.
Its aims include helping migrants access services, such as registering with a GP, and understanding issues such as driving regulations. It is hoped the service will reduce community tensions and pressures on services by helping migrants become self-sufficient.
The service has engaged with 43 nationalities, mainly Portuguese, Romanian and Polish, about issues including Brexit advice.