Tag Archives: Social and public service impacts of international migration at the local level

The Light of Evidence 3

This is my latest post on the COMPAS blog. Read the original here.

COMPAS’s original brief was to conduct research that provided new evidence, challenged assumptions, developed theory, and informed policy and public debate in the migration field: this remains true today. Our work has explored changing migration processes and outcomes. But informing migration policy has been an equal crucial part of our mission.

We have argued that academics play a key role in public life in addressing the gaps in the evidence base, interrogating underlying assumptions, and investigating the development of migration policy itself. In particular, we have worked to bring our own research, and that of the wider community of migration scholars, to bear on political and policy debate in the UK, with the hope of shaping a more fact-based – and less emotionally and ideologically driven – conversation about the phenomenon that is so central to our changing world.

In this spirit, for the last four years, COMPAS has organised monthly Breakfast Briefings in Westminster, to bring the latest research evidence on a range of migration-related issues to a policy-making audience.

These Briefings were funded from COMPAS’s core grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Now that our ESRC core funding period has ended, we remain committed to productively contributing to policy debates in the UK and beyond, and we are very pleased to have won funding from Oxford University for a range of Knowledge Exchange activities which we will launch after the summer, including a continuation of our Breakfast Briefing series. We are grateful too to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), an independent thinktank in Westminster which hosts the Briefings, making them accessible to policy-makers.

I summarised the 2011/12 series here and the 2012/13 here. In this post, I will describe some of the highlights of the 2013/14 series.

Local impacts of migration

The series began with a briefing by Jon Simmons, the head of the Migration and Border Analysis for Home Office Science, focusing on the local-level social and public service impacts of international migration, based on an important recent report from Home Office Science (which I blogged about here).

Earth “Global Village”Using a large suite of variables, the report allocated the local authorities of England and Wales to twelve clusters, ranging from “superdiverse London” through “Rural and Coastal Retirement Areas” to “Low Migration Small Towns and Rural Areas”, each with different types of migrant populations. Then the experiences of local authorities were analysed to start the processes of unpacking the huge variations in the social and service delivery implications of different types of migrant populations.

Jon’s briefing zoomed in on “Diverse conurbation centres”, such as Birmingham and Bradford, where long-settled BME populations have been augmented by on-going migration from the global South; “Migrant worker towns and countryside”, places such as Boston, Breckland and Thanet, with very few African and Asian migrants but large numbers of EU accession migrant workers arriving among an ageing, stable and relatively ethnically homogenous population; “Prosperous small towns”, such as St Alban’s or the towns of the Cotswolds, economically vibrant areas to which long-settled migrants are moving; and “Industrial and manufacturing towns”, such as Hartlepool or Merthyr Tydfil, deprived areas with among the fewest international migrants and most stable populations in the country.

The variation between such places – the very different ways in which migration patterns are re-shaping each of them – shows why our migration debate needs to go beyond the simplistic and frequently alarmist facts and pseudo-facts so often thrown around. But it also points to key gaps in the evidence base on migration at the local level. Understanding how place matters in migration and its impacts – capturing Britain’s new cartography of diversity – has become a research priority for COMPAS. Continue reading

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At the COMPAS blog: The Light of Evidence 2

This is my latest blogpost at the COMPAS blog. The original is here.

Working in a migration research centre, I have come to dread the point in the conversation with a stranger when they ask what I do. From cab drivers to school gate acquaintances, everyone seems to have an opinion on migration – usually a strong opinion, almost always an ill-informed one.

A recent poll by Ipsos Mori for the Royal Statistical Society found that we, the British public, think 31% of the UK population are immigrants; in reality, it’s just 13%. We think 30% of the population is Black or Asian and 24% is Muslim; it’s actually just 11% and 5% respectively.

flash lightOf course, the media and politicians play a major role in shaping such dramatic misperceptions, and perhaps there is relatively little academics can do to shine the weak light of actual evidence on to public debate.

I recently participated in a very interesting piece of research by Home Office Science on the vital question of the local impacts on public services, local economies and social cohesion associated with different kinds of international migration. I wrote a blogpost for The Conversation on the media misrepresentation of the report, probably partly shaped by the way the report was spun by the government to fit a particular agenda. A fellow academic wrote in OpenDemocracy on the same report, but argued that the very framing of the research questions was inherently problematic and that scholars need to be much more wary of collaborating in government research on this topic. While agreeing with many of his criticisms, my view is that the risk of getting our hands dirty by intervening in public debates is necessary if our work on social issues is to speak beyond the ivory tower.

One of the small ways in which COMPAS attempts to bring evidence into public debate is the Breakfast Briefings we have been organising for the last three years: monthly briefings from researchers on key immigration topics, aimed at Westminster policy makers. The Briefings aim to make complex issues easy to digest and provide a neutral forum for informed debate on the implications of the research tells us. I wrote a post here a year ago, entitled “The Light of Evidence” on the previous series. This post is about the 2012-13 season. Continue reading


Press hysteria and UK government migration research

Simon Parker wrote a post for OpenDemocracy about the recent Home Office report on the local social impacts of migration.

The Home Office Report, Social and Public Service Impacts of International Migration at the Local Level, has generated some predictable headlines and scare stories in The Daily Mail and The Telegraph, as a recent article in The Conversation points out. But what jumped out at me after reading the report is not so much the policy implications of its findings, but the meagre evidence base from which its conclusions are drawn.

Simon makes some important criticisms of the report, and of the academics who engage with this sort of research. I wrote this reply in the comments:

Simon, this is an excellent and thought-provoking article. You’re right that the evidence base is fairly meagre. It is mostly not primary research. The primary research here is gathering the experience of local authorities (and some other agencies I think). The locality profiling is analysis of existing data, and the consultation with “experts” is basically a review of the existing evidence. However, I think the report is pretty open about its limited scope and the thinness of the evidence base, as in the statement you quote. Of course “is no substitute for a proper quantitative survey of the entire United Kingdom”, but that’s a very high bar to set, and one that much rigorous academic research could never meet.

I think the report could be clearer in setting out the methodology (e.g. disclosing the full impact statements), and I think the methodology could have been improved. I know people who responded on-line or in person had trouble with a few of the impact statements, some of which seemed loaded. For instance, I think you are probably right about the “recoil” which might have stopped some respondents from giving completely honest responses in relation to a couple of the statements. This is an effect of the polarisation and toxicity of the debate which I mentioned, which means that every statement of fact about migration is immediately translated into a “pro” or “anti” view and framed as a cost or benefit. (One problem of this cost/benefit framing is that it makes it harder to address questions around who the net losers and net gainers from large-scale migration actually are, an issue with which radical academics should be concerned – see e.g. http://www.iwca.info/?p=10129 .) But I don’t think the methodology is flawed in the fundamental way this article (and its strapline) suggests.

There is another issue you raise, which I alluded to in my piece in The Conversation but should have been more forthright about, which is how the government spun the research. I haven’t seen the government press release, which I presume the Mark Harper quotes are from. The quotes seem to me to distort the findings of the report, and not to heed any qualifications about the meagreness of the evidence base. Crucially, the quotes (and the media articles based on them) ignored the central premise of the research, which is that different sorts of migrants will be associated with different migrants. This is a very common problem in research, especially commissioned research, and academics are often compromised because of the way our work is spun.

The way research then gets picked up by the media is also always problematic. We all bring our partisan readings to the research we read. Your use of the word “admits” in this article could be one example, which assumes that the report wanted to come to negative findings: my reading is that the authors were keen to stress “positives” along with “negatives”. (Interestingly, the NHS issue is the one “positive” the Mail article notes (“While acknowledging the hugely important work carried out by foreign doctors and nurses, researchers revealed a string of pressures on the NHS”).

The impact statements, I think, were intended to highlight an extremely important point, which the spin and reportage has failed to pick up on: policy-makers and the public need to dis-aggregate the category of migrant, to show (as you note) that many groups are associated “low impacts”. The report should, however, have been clear (rather than leaving it for readers to make the connection) that those groups associated with “high impacts” are generally the groups which are smallest in numbers.

And the report does note that “migrant workers can make a valuable contribution to the provision of services and to the local economy”: opening new businesses, providing skills, filling jobs, staffing the NHS. It is true that the structure of the report, with the local economy last, does not highlight this contribution. However, the work commissioned by the Migration Advisory Committee (including the report commissioned from Dustmann and Frattini on the impact of migration on the provision of UK public services (which only had “positive” findings), already covers the economy well, while service demand is under-evidenced. And I’m not sure of the value – apart from in propaganda terms – of trying to review cultural or scientific contributions to local communities.

Finally, the locality profiling is problematic in the way it uses the terms “high migration” (even though it carefully puts them in scare quotes) – which played straight onto the “toll” and “burden” narrative. But I think that public agencies and local authorities desperately need better tools to understand the patterns of changes they are experiencing, and government scientists and academics have a responsibility to help provide these. In some parts of London, for example, it is true that big majorities of births are to migrant mothers, which has a massive impact on resourcing maternity services and also shapes the perceptions of other NHS users. If our “recoil” instinct papers over this fact then we lose credibility.

Yes, we should be wary of collaborating in government research, given the way it is instrumentalised. The news articles about this report certainly gave me cause to reflect on my own complicity. But as social scientists who want to be engaged in social issues and not just write for other academics, keeping our hands clean also comes with a price.

There was a short courteous back and forth after that, which you can follow below the post.

Continue reading


Calm the hysteria

The Conversation published a blogpost by me which they titled “Calm hysteria and assess the real local impact of migration“.

This is a longer version of the post. The published version is here.

There is no doubt that the face of Britain has been changed profoundly by immigration since the start of the twenty-first century. For a long time, the scale of this change was obscured, and the impact it has had remains poorly understood.

The big spike in immigration occurred during the economic boom of the noughties: after the 2001 Census on which local authority official population estimates (and hence, crucially, local authority budgets) were based. A report in 2007 by the Audit Commission attempted for the first time to calculate the sorts of impacts and issues local government had to address – and pay for. Partly in response to this, the government established a Migration Impacts Fund, paid for out of visa fees, to channel resources into localities and regions facing these issues, a Fund that was cancelled in the first months of the Coalition government cuts.

Since the 2011 Census, we are starting to get a more accurate picture of the demographic change the UK has experienced over this period. But we still don’t really know what the numbers mean for people actually living in areas that have changed, or for the agencies charged with planning and delivering public services to changing populations.

Meanwhile, public debate on migration often reduces migrants to a single homogeneous group. Compounding this, media coverage often focuses on exceptional and emotive figures of the migrant (the “bogus asylum seeker”, the “Polish plumber”, the “illegal immigrant” or the “Romanian invasion”) to stand in for an actually diverse and complex population, shaping public perceptions of migration in perverse ways. But the presence of different types of migrants – from a non-domiciled millionaire in a fashionable London neighbourhood to a Filipina hospital worker living in a small town in the Northeast – will obviously have an enormously varied set of implications for the localities where they reside.

A report published last week by the Home Office, Social and Public Service Impacts of International Migration at the Local Level, used a combination of statistical profiling, consultation with local authorities and other service providers, and consultation with experts in different fields, to start the process of properly mapping the actual local impacts of different migration patterns.

I was one of the academics consulted and so read the report with enthusiasm. The report groups the UK’s local authorities into a dozen clusters, based on their demographic and socio-economic profile. It then carefully sets out the available evidence on the impacts associated with six main groups of migrants, including refugee families, low skilled migrant workers and international students, in a series of policy areas, such as health, education, policing, cohesion and the local labour market. Then, in a final section, some tentative conclusions are set out that open a conversation about how we can use these findings to think long-term about local planning and resourcing of services in the face of these challenges. Such a conversation is vitally important, precisely because it is in real places – real regions, cities and neighbourhoods – where the story of Britain’s changing demography is unfolding.  Continue reading