Migrants need more support, says report

LORNA MARSH A migrant rights group in Norfolk welcomed a report yesterday calling for more support for foreign workers - but warned that more government funding was needed to help communities integrate.

LORNA MARSH

A migrant-rights group in Norfolk welcomed a report yesterday calling for more support for foreign workers - but warned that more government funding was needed to help communities integrate.

An Audit Commission study, which used expertise from Norfolk, found that creating opportunities for migrant workers to improve their English is one of the best things councils, agencies and employers can do to address the challenges of rapid population change.

The Crossing Borders report concluded that although English is not essential for all low-skill jobs, those that can speak it well are less likely to be exploited at work, will find it easier to find out about entitlements and are more likely to integrate into communities. But it said that migrant workers can find it difficult to attend English classes due to unpredictable shift patterns. In addition, the range, quality and availability of classes as well as a lack of experienced teachers acts as a barrier to education.

The commission acknowledged that many councils have struggled to cope with the unanticipated size of the inflow of migrant workers since the enlargement of the European Union in 2004 but insisted the issue could be effectively tackled.

However Elisa Pinto, of the Keystone Development Trust in Thetford, which carries out educational and support work with local migrant communities, said more cash was needed to carry out all the necessary work in Norfolk.

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"Funding is always an issue. We are doing what we can in Norfolk but more needs to be done, not just in providing English lessons but educating people on cultural differences and rights to help everyone integrate more easily."

The commission's report also found that co-ordination of local authorities and their partners to communicate effectively with migrant workers and deliver tailor-made schemes was essential.

Joan Emerson, Norfolk County Council's equality officer, was part of the Audit Commission report's advisory group feeding in experiences gained in the county.

The council runs English lessons for foreign-language speakers with about 1,000 users this academic year, provides a translation service as well as support for migrant school pupils and encourages the celebration of diversity in schools.

Harry Humphrey, deputy leader and cabinet member for human resources, finance, property and corporate affairs at Norfolk County Council, said: "We believe that working together positively with other organisations is the best way to meet the needs effectively of migrant workers.

"We, therefore, have a partnership with other Norfolk organisations, such as local authorities, health, the police and the voluntary sector. We use this network to share information and good practice and to make sure that frontline staff, whichever organisation they work for, have the information they need to support migrant workers, such as knowing what their rights are."

The report came on the same day as an Institute of Directors study of 500 company bosses who felt migrants worked harder than British nationals.