This summarises the key issues identified by each discussion group during the break-out sessions of the Supporting Migrants in Welfare Reform workshop, held on 11th November 2015 at the Olympia Building, Bridgeton Cross, Glasgow. This event was run in partnership with GRAMNet.

The event began with presentations from Henri Krishna (CPAG Scotland), Dr Holly Porteous (Swansea University) and Dr Paulina Trevena (University of Glasgow). Holly and Paulina both work on the ESRC-funded research project ‘Social Support and Migration in Scotland (SSAMIS)’, which you can find more information about here.

You can download Henri and Paulina’s powerpoint presentations: Henri Krishna PPT and Paulina Trevena PPT

You can read more about the findings from the SSAMIS project and the applicability of these to current policy debates on migrants and social security across the UK in Holly’s article for The Conversation, available here.

After the presentations, the audience were organised into discussion groups. Each group included a mix of representatives from academic, third sector and policy organisations. Discussions began with the opportunity for participants to use their own experience/work/research to build on, further illustrate, or offer alternative perspectives to what was said by the speakers.

The groups went on to talk about what could be done in practical terms to better support migrants, and how to support those providing services or support to migrants in navigating welfare and welfare reforms. The below summary provides details of these discussions. This includes suggestions for roles which specific organisations and groups could take in better supporting migrants and welfare services with which they engage.

The outcomes listed here are a starting point for action, and we will be working to pursue practical steps towards resolving these issues.

Information

The need for more, and more easily accessible information on life in Scotland for newcomers was a key discussion outcome. This includes simplifying and thinking more creatively about dissemination of information for people trying to access rights and entitlements.

The need to avoid (or to carefully explain) jargon was also discussed. This includes thinking about how technical terms are translated (e.g. ‘losing the right to reside’ is likely to be very confusing, and there is evidence of EU migrants thinking this means they may be deported).

Organisations should be cautious about the reliance on written and printed information which excludes those with literacy issues (e.g. Roma) and becomes quickly out of date. As an alternative, social media, community radio, or video clips could be considered instead. These might be shown and distributed via schools/community organisations, at various public events.

This is also linked to lobbying governments about the need to simplify regulations and lessen the number and frequency of complicated changes.

Social security

As part of communicating and sharing information more accessibly and effectively, the specific difficulties facing migrants in their navigation of social security was discussed. The benefits system is difficult to navigate for all applicants, but these obstacles could have more acute consequences for migrants. They could prevent EU migrants from accessing benefits, resulting in EU migrants in particular “making do” without benefits and not challenging decisions. Accepting, and not challenging, decisions is particularly problematic where entitlement to benefits is a “passport” to other benefits, or where benefit sanctions are involved, especially since the severity of sanctions is cumulative.

Examples were given about people avoiding contact with job centres, and relying on support within the migrant community instead. Where job centres also act as health information points, they might be unaware of health care entitlements as a result.

Job centre phone lines presented a particular problem: rather than use “official” telephone interpreting, friends would interpret/communicate on behalf of applicants. This relates to issues of language, which are discussed in more detail below.

A possible practical response could be a national resource/toolkit, which would be available to service providers, including both statutory and voluntary services, and employees. It was felt that this could be something the Scottish Government should and could take a lead on creating, and that it is in the interest of the Scottish Government to do so – there are clear outcomes and benefits to providing a better environment for migrants. This should include flexible forms of communication (online resources, local radio, video) and provision. This should also provide support workers with guidance and practical things they can do – it was felt that the current landscape can be very challenging for those on the front line, and can throw up barriers to their intentions and abilities to get the advice right.

Organisations

It’s important to link up best practices between different areas of Scotland/UK/further afield – e.g. policy toolkits as produced by organisations like COSLA. A general directory of organisations dealing with/supporting migrants locally could be helpful, and this would need to be regularly updated.

This could enable people to find out about other organisations and what they’re doing, how they can complement their own organisation – and would facilitate drawing resources together. Grassroots community organisations need to be engaged with alongside the largest/most well-known organisations.

Language

The need for much more flexible ways of providing opportunities for a range of language provision was discussed. F or example, telephone interpreting does not seem to work. On-line courses, ESOL cd, and self-study could be more productive alternatives. Events could be organised in other languages, to enable migrants to attend and contribute more to discussions about their own situations.

There needs to be better support for and provision of interpreters to assist service providers. This will have clear benefits in helping those who are managing issues on the front-line, who have a particular skills set which does not often extend to particular language capabilities. As English language skills become a commitment of a claimant, it is necessary to ensure that provision to which these conditions are attached is then available. This provision needs to be much easier to access and arrange.

A Migrant Language Programme could help in the resolution of some of these issues – this would support migrants to go through training and get qualifications to become interpreters.

Employers

Working with employers to support flexible approaches to language learning for employees was discussed. This might involve organising work-based language classes, buddy schemes with ‘local’ employees. This could include supporting access to other forms of language learning, such as online learning, language cafes and local (rather than employer based) buddy schemes. In-work progression – more support for employers to encourage/facilitate migrants within employment to expand their skills, so that they can then progress in their job

Employers could be incentivised through Scottish Government led schemes, recognising that access to work can facilitate migrants’ integration and local knowledge, and is beneficial for local and national economies.

Volunteering could also be a helpful process for migrants, through which they could gain work experience, expand their social networks and improve their English language skills.

Communities

Peer groups offer a practical way to help people gain a better sense of the area they have moved into e.g. doctors, shops, amenities, groups, etc. This also has a beneficial social function.

Part of this could include improving opportunities for English language learning and interactions with ‘local’ people/co-workers/communities. This could be facilitated through increased funding for EAL/ESOL at colleges, but also through more flexible approaches to language learning (discussed above).

Negative discourses

The need to combating negative media and political discourses on migration was a very significant point of action discussed. This is key to improving migrant experiences.

A suggested public engagement strategy was the foregrounding of individuals’ stories to humanise ‘migrants’, alongside circulating accurate information about wider pictures.

Another route for resolution discussed was looking for ways to improve political representation and engagement of migrants. Here, some useful lessons might be learned from the Indyref experience. Migrants (at least in some areas) were engaged with more actively and as a result also became more directly involved in political processes and debates.