‘Go Home’: Mapping the ongoing controversy of Home Office immigration campaigns

By Dr Emma Jackson, Journal Research Fellow (Urban Studies)

On December 19th 2013, the Scottish Parliament debated the Home Office’s ‘Go Home’ poster campaign in the UK Border Agency’s Brand Street reporting centre. The posters at Brand Street reading ‘Is life here hard, why not go home?’ were part of a high profile Government pilot scheme launched in July 2013, directing public attention to an increasing ‘hard line’ from the government on ‘illegal immigration’, which also included: an advertising campaign in London boroughs calling on migrants with insecure legal status to ‘go home’; high-profile immigration checks and raids in public spaces; and pictures of arrests circulated through the Home Office Twitter account using the hashtag #immigrationoffenders.

A research team, led by Principal Investigator Hannah Jones at the University of Warwick, with colleagues from 6 other universities including Glasgow, now has the opportunity to carry out detailed academic research on the impacts of such campaigns on migrants, non-migrants and public debate. Our research project ‘Go Home: Mapping the unfolding controversy of Home Office Immigration Campaigns’ has won a grant from the Economic and Social Research Counci to fund an 18-month research project. This is one of the first successful applications to the Economic and Social Research Council new Urgency Grants Mechanism to support social science research projects responding quickly to urgent or unforeseen events.

The project will examine local case studies across the UK to investigate how these campaigns impact on local communities, alongside a large national survey, textual analysis of social media and interviews with policy-makers. The project will study the operation, impacts and implications of these initiatives, and the responses to them. This research has been designed in collaboration with civil society organisations that have been clear about their need for robust social scientific evidence that will help them and others to effectively foster good relations. The research design is based on the needs identified by these groups and will also provide insights into wider questions of how public policy decisions are made and interact with public debate and social science.

The summer’s wave of interventions is part of wider structural change to the immigration service and policies restricting non-EU citizens’ entry to the UK, and their rights once present. They have drawn public attention and campaigns in an acute way that warrants urgent attention. Irregular immigration is not statistically very large, nor very costly; but sentiments on it are held very deeply by some voters. This raises questions about the use of evidence and argument in public policy decision-making. Policy makers and organisations working with migrants, against racial harassment, and on promoting peaceful communities need research that analyses the effects of these policies.

In my role as co-investigator I will be particularly focusing on Glasgow as a case study. This will provide the opportunity to explore the impact of the Brand Street posters on migrant and non-migrant Glaswegians and also, more generally, to study how oppositions to such interventions feed into debates about the Scottish Independence. There has been much political opposition to the scheme in Scotland including demonstrations held at the Brand Street offices and the piloting of posters in Glasgow roundly condemned by the Scottish Parliament – described in the Motion as ‘insensitive, callous and ill-thought-out’.

One of the project’s strengths is that it is responsive – while the Go Home pilot has been scrapped, immigration is likely to be a major issue in the 2015 general election and in the Scottish Independence referendum. We will thus not only investigate the impact of ‘Go Home’ but any other Home Office immigration campaigns that emerge over the next 18 months.

Investigators on the project are: Dr Hannah Jones, University of Warwick; Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya, University of East London; Dr William Davies, University of Warwick; Dr Sukhwant Dhaliwal, University of Bedfordshire; Dr Kirsten Forkert, Birmingham City University; Dr Yasmin Gunaratnam, Goldsmiths; Dr Emma Jackson, University of Glasgow; Dr Roiyah Saltus, University of South Wales.


Featured image credit: UK Border, Terminal 4, London Heathrow © flickr.com/DavidMcKelvey

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