Rural communities struggling to cope with immigration, Prince Charles report warns
Rural communities are struggling to cope with unprecedented immigration that is putting increasing strain on local services, a report by one of the Prince of Wales's official charities has warned.
By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 12:44AM GMT 22 Nov 2008
A near tripling in the flow of migrant workers into the countryside has had a “disproportionate impact” on small rural towns and villages who lack the necessary resources and infrastructure to adapt.
Housing, healthcare, education and policing have all come under increasing pressure, according to a working group involving some of the UK's biggest business names.
But it says immigrants are needed to fill jobs, especially “cold and wet” or outdoor ones, which Britons would prefer “to remain jobless” than fill.
The study – by Business in the Community, one of the Prince's 19 charities and chaired by Marks and Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose – insists migrant workers are good for the UK and issued a code of practice on how best to integrate them.
And it warns food prices could be forced up even further if alternatives to migrant labour are sought, such as raising wages.
It was drawn up by the BitC Migrant Worker Integration Group, whose members include Asda, Tesco, M&S, John Lewis Partnership, Duchy Originals, Sainsbury's and HSBC, and was presented to Cohesion Minister Sadiq Khan.
It found: “While migrants bring a number of benefits, such as raising economic output and filling labour shortages and skill gaps, they also pose a number of challenges for example in relation to community cohesion and the provision of adequate housing and services.
“While many urban areas have a history punctuated by waves of immigration into the community, overseas migration into rural communities on the scale currently experienced is an unprecedented phenomenon and one to which the local community is, in many cases, struggling to adapt.”
The study points out there has been a 186 per cent growth in migrant workers in to rural areas since 2002, including at least 116,000 Eastern Europeans in 2006/07 alone.
It says certain areas such as Herefordshire, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire have witnessed particularly heavy concentrations.
“In many instances, rural communities in these areas lack the necessary resources, skills and infrastructure to adapt to the growing migrant population,” it says.
“In addition to a shortage of resource and physical capacity, rural authorities and employers face the added challenge of fostering effective integration with a culturally unprepared host community.”
It attacks the lack of adequate population data in the country, warning: “In the meantime, local services such as housing, healthcare, education and policing all come under increasing pressure.
“Attempting to harness and manage the challenges and opportunities posed by rapid migration, with a resource allocation which does not fully reflect or recognise the short term impact of high or rapid levels of migration, is difficult and risk prone.”
It focuses on Boston in Lincolnshire which needs up to 15,000 casual workers a day during peak periods and 98 per cent of them are migrants.
The town had 57,000 in 2001 but has seen 15,000 migrants settle there since and is home of more than 30 nationalities.
“The transient nature of migrants and the lack of public funding (which is allocated on the basis of historic figures) has caused severe problems for Boston Borough Council in dealing with this influx, including the challenges of integrating different cultures and backgrounds,” it found.
But the group, who are among some of the largest employers of migrant workers, stress immigrants are needed, especially in rural areas and are of “great importance to the economy”.
It adds: “The labour shortages that migrants fill are socially constructed.
“As the rural working class has declined, UK workers have been reluctant to take on arduous, low paid, insecure, and outdoor or 'wet and cold' jobs, seeking alternative employment in towns or even preferring to remain jobless.
“Workers from outside of the UK have been attracted to these jobs as a means to learn English, to remit pay back to their countries, and due to poor opportunities in their home countries.”
It warns seeking alternatives to migrant labour could see food prices increase or companies moving to where labour costs are lower.
Instead the group launched a code of practice which it is urging companies to sign to help companies improve conditions for migrants and aid them to settle in and avoid exploitation.
It includes ethical recruitment, better travel and accommodation, better language teaching information, and addressing cultural needs and preventing and addressing racial discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: “This report demonstrates all to clearly why Labour should adopt our policy of setting an annual limit on economic migration that not only takes in to account its impact on the economy but also on the wider public service infrastructure and social cohesion.”
Christine Larson, Rural Development Director, Business in the Community, said: “We are especially pleased to have been involved in the development of the Position Paper and Voluntary Code of Practice on the employment of Migrant Workers, which represents an authoritative view from a wide range of businesses, across a whole supply chain, as well as other stakeholders involved in the integration of workers, so key to the nation's economy”.
Cohesion Minister Sadiq Khan MP, said: “The Voluntary Code of Practice will ensure that employers are better informed when taking the responsibility to ensure migrant workers are smoothly integrated into local communities. It is a framework that will help employers establish good work practice which can only be a good thing.”
A UK Border Agency spokeswoman said: We know that migrants overall make a positive economic contribution. But they also use public services and we are helping local areas deal with the impact of migration. The Government has already provided significant extra resources to local authorities.
However we believe that with a relatively small amount of additional money we could alleviate some of the short term transitional pressures resulting from migration, which is why we have set up the Migration Impact Fund.
This fund will enable us to move quickly and responsively to alleviate some of the short-term transitional pressures.