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Advice from Middlesex's Social Policy Research Centre helps migrant communities weather hard times
The spending cuts of recent years hit many people hard. Among the groups that felt them most acutely were London's Turkish and Kurdish communities. The UK's Turkish-born population increased by 50% between 2001 and 2011. Around half live in social housing, and the employment rate is significantly lower than among UK-born residents. Day-Mer, a Turkish and Kurdish community organisation based in Hackney, secured Big Lottery funding to find out how people's lives had been affected by the cutbacks, and asked Middlesex University's Social Policy Research Centre to carry out the research.
The vast majority of those surveyed thought community life had got worse: they cited longer waits for a GP appointment, fewer teaching staff in schools and less language support. Some believed minority groups like their own were being targeted, and most thought racism and crime - especially gang-related - were up. On an individual level, people were struggling to make ends meet, and 43% had had their benefits cut. Personal experiences did not always reflect people's deep degree of pessimism about the community as a whole, says Alessio D'Angelo, the lead researcher on the project and a Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences at Middlesex. But the overall picture was of a community that lacked trust in the public sector and was fearful of the future.
With benefits unlikely to rise soon and councils like Enfield, Haringey and Hackney facing continued pressure on their budgets, what can be done to help communities like these?
"What we generally recommended was more communication between local authorities and these groups," says D'Angelo. "If it's a matter of scarcity of resources, then at the very least you should keep a conversation going. We encourage organisations like this to work in partnership with similar groups, so they can share resources and experiences." The report also said language classes and support should be "at the forefront" of any initiative: interviewees themselves said it was the main obstacle to integrating further into British society.
The quantitative data collection element of the survey was carried out by a small group of young people who were trained at Middlesex and received a certificate at the end of the work. The research team launched their preliminary findings at the Day-Mer community centre and incorporated that feedback into the final report. D'Angelo engages members of the communities he studies at every opportunity. SPRC recently won funding for a project to map six different communities in Hounslow, and part of that study is subcontracted to a migrant group.
In the course of their research, the Middlesex team discovered that the Turkish community was moving north to Enfield, and now had to go to boroughs further south to access council-run services aimed at Turks and Kurds. They invited Enfield council staff to the launch of the final report in July 2013, and D'Angelo was subsequently invited to attend one of the borough's strategic meetings.
"Projects like this represent a model in terms of engaging with community groups and doing it in a more participatory way," says D'Angelo. The benefits are symbiotic: "It gives us the opportunity to do research we wouldn't be able to do otherwise, and for them it's a way to identify needs in the community and to apply for funding on that basis."
Find out more about the report