Superdiversity: innovative policy and practice for a new era

Professor Jenny Phillimore

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Throughout this week I have outlined some of the challenges and opportunities associated with superdiversity. In my last blog I want to think a bit about how we might adapt to address some of these. The scale of the challenges we face is unprecedented and requires adaptation of almost every aspect of society to recognise that the emergence of superdiversity brings a whole new reality.

The first step is to publicly acknowledge the arrival of this new era at the same time accepting that it is a global phenomenon of which British born people are a part. We benefit from mobility and migration in a number of ways. We increasingly live, work and retire overseas: IPPR estimate that 10% of British born live outside of the UK. We are also more likely than ever before to form relationships with people from overseas. We must also acknowledge that the many of the services and goods we enjoy depend on flexible migrant labour. Migrants’ contribution goes above and beyond increasing GDP to impact upon us all in our ability to purchase cheap food, access specialist healthcare in the NHS, provide care for the vulnerable and much more. We depend on migrant labour to do the jobs we do not want or for which we lack skills. We need to change the rhetoric around migration making the debate and discussion more balanced and constructive. I’m not suggesting that we abandon our borders but that we completely separate out the issue of borders from the discussion of the role and contribution of migrants who are already resident.

We need to educate everyone to understand superdiversity in both national and global contexts. From primary schools to professional and university courses we must help people to understand the changes underway and to aid them to develop the intercultural communication skills they will need in order to build connections and provide services to diverse people. As discussed earlier in the week integration is a two way process which requires adaptation from everybody and all institutions [1]. Learning about each other and how to communicate is a major step forward but we also need to realise that the way that we provide welfare services such as health and education has not really changed since the time of Beveridge and certainly does not take into account our 24/7 superdiverse society. Services need to be more flexible to meet the needs of all with GP surgeries open longer hours and based in convenient locations such as supermarkets and A&E departments.

With superdiversity comes super-mobility. We all move more than we used to and migrants in particular move frequently following employment and housing opportunities – this after all is what the Coalition government suggest we do in order to avoid unemployment or costly housing. But our housing stock is static and our renewal programmes focus on stabilising populations. We need new housing solutions. Good quality, self-contained, affordable, well-maintained and temporary housing solutions where people can live for days, weeks or months might be built on brown-field inner city sites to house the increasing population of single people many of who are migrants.

We also need to acknowledge that there are costs associated with migration. And these generally arise because migrants are concentrated in deprived areas that already lack resources. Again we need to accept that migrants are there through necessity – because they cannot afford to live elsewhere. The poor quality of the housing in which they reside in not the fault of migrants but of those landlords who do not maintain their properties.   Regulation and enforcement of employment and housing legislation is essential if migrants are not to be subject to the super-exclusion that places so much pressure on some local areas. Giving migrants (and others) full employment rights so that poor-paid, insecure agency work is less attractive to employers will improve housing choices and perhaps make those jobs more attractive to local people. Where employers depend heavily upon migrant labour there might be some kind of levy, which cannot be deducted from wages, which helps contribute to the local costs associated with migration. Government too could contribute by investing part of visa fees into migration hot-spots.

Language is important. We need to share a common language in order to communicate. The good news is that only just over 0.2% of the population of England and Wales do not speak English. Despite the rhetoric that they “do not want to speak our language” the evidence suggests that almost all migrants do want to speak English. The problem is that our language training is of poor quality, expensive and inflexible failing to reach those working long-hours or women with caring responsibilities. We must improve our language offer and look at the approaches utilised in Germany and Scandinavia where migrants can access 450 hours tailored language training each year utilising a range of methods such as language mentors and volunteer placements that embed migrants in English speaking environments. This will have cost implications but these maybe offset with reduced translation and interpretation costs in the longer term.

We cannot return to a pre-superdiverse era. The changes I have suggested are just a starting point. We also need to consider how we can benefit further from superdiversity for example by utilising the global connections associated with superdiversity and the entrepreneurial skills of migrants to develop new economic opportunities [2]. Actions are urgently required to support individuals and institutions to adapt to the new reality and ensure that integration and inclusion are possible for all – migrants and the communities they live in.

Professor Jenny Phillimore is Professor of Migration and Superdiversity at the University of Birmingham.

Other useful links:

  1. Phillimore, J. (2012) Implementing integration in the UK: lessons for integration theory, policy and practice Policy & Politics 40(4) 5250545
  2. New Migrant Enterprise: Novelty or Historical Continuity? Trevor Jones, Monder Ram, Paul Edwards, Alexander Kiselinchev and Lovemore Muchenje0042-0980 Print/1360-063X
  3. The potential of temporary migration programmes in future international migration policy
  4. The future of migration: Irresistible forces meet immovable ideas
  5. Evaluating Migrant Integration: Political Attitudes Across Generations in Europe
  6. Migrant balancing acts: understanding the interactions between integration and transnationalism
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