Warning over profiteering from migrants

Landlords may be profiting from the booming numbers of migrant workers in the fens without taking the necessary steps to ensure the homes they are living in are safe.

Landlords may be profiting from the booming numbers of migrant workers in the fens without taking the necessary steps to ensure the homes they are living in are safe.

That was the warning from council officials last night as it emerged that there may be up to 500 “houses of multiple occupation”, many of them unlicensed, being rented to migrant workers in the district.

Fenland District Council has just completed a new migration population strategy which looks at how to deal with the growing number of workers from abroad in the fens.

Migrants and their families have formed the largest single group of new arrivals in Fenland over the past three years, and they are thought to number about 90,000 in the region as a whole.

The aim of the report is to ensure they are treated fairly and that the right help is available for them. But it has highlighted key concerns, including exploitation and harassment of workers and racial tension.

It is estimated that the revenue gains from the efforts of migrants in the east of England alone may be up to £360m. But many workers are more skilled than the jobs they are doing, and some are being exploited by gangmasters and landlords.

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“There appears to be a landlord preference to let to migrant workers to increase profitability as it is done on a per head basis,” reports David Bailey, traveller and diversity manager.

He says the council often receives reports of homes being rented out to migrant workers, in some instances with blatant disregard for safety.

“There have been several serious fire incidents in these houses in multiple occupation over the last few years, and there are ongoing concerns about fire safety within this tenure,” he warns.

His report is due to be discussed by Fenland's cabinet this week.

The council has set up a single point of contact through its one-stop shops to advise migrants.

Mr Bailey says education remains a challenge, particularly at Wisbech, where about a twelfth of those attending Thomas Clarkson Commun-ity College are children of migrant workers.

Staff are working hard to settle migrant students, but the scale of the impact of migrant numbers on the existing population “can become an issue when some existing local services may already be under pressure”, he states.

Mr Bailey's report details a list of objectives which Fenland aims to achieve in the next three years to ensure migrants are not exploited and that cultural integration takes place.

Wisbech Citizens Advice Bureau continues to be at the centre of the drive to advise migrants. Many complaints centre on unscrupulous gangmasters and on workers being made to sign contracts of employment they do not understand.

Mr Bailey says: “We need to ensure that the migrant population's significant contribution to the rural economy is recognised. But despite this they report that they are often victims of exploitation and discrimination by their employers and the wider community.”

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