Vicar calls on Spalding to help migrants learn English as new report reveals catalogue of exploitation

More than 40 per cent of migrants surveyed said the language barrier was the single, most crucial issue they face.
More than 40 per cent of migrants surveyed said the language barrier was the single, most crucial issue they face.
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Exploitation by landlords and bosses are key problems facing migrant workers in Spalding.

Two incidents have been uncovered where landlords demanded sex from their women tenants but it’s not clear if they happened locally.

The Vicar of Spalding, the Rev John Bennett, wants a concerted campaign to provide opportunities for migrants to learn English. SG030317-125TW

The Vicar of Spalding, the Rev John Bennett, wants a concerted campaign to provide opportunities for migrants to learn English. SG030317-125TW

There’s a case where an entire family lives in one room and another where a tenant pays £600 for a double room.

Bosses withhold wages, threaten the sack if employees take days off and one individual reported having to work six straight weeks without a day’s leave.

Migrants who speak little English have trouble talking to doctors, which has led to misdiagnosis of medical conditions, difficulty claiming benefits for a family following a terminal cancer diagnosis and problems getting help for a disabled child.

The language barrier was cited as a reason for migrants racking up expensive travel costs to go ‘home’ for medical treatment.

It is our view that a coordinated effort across Spalding to provide both English lessons and to practice English with other residents in a variety of friendly, informal settings would bring immense benefits to the whole community.

The Vicar of Spalding, the Rev John Bennett

The revelations come in a report from the Community Connectors project, funded by the Bishop of Lincoln’s Social Justice Fund, and headed by the Vicar of Spalding, the Rev John Bennett, with support from Anna Czapska from the Polish Help Centre and the Laima Brencs Advice and Translation Service.

Some 182 Polish, Latvian and Lithuanian people completed questionnaires but, despite all of the problems uncovered, only six wished to return to their own countries.

The report concludes: “The majority of those completing the questionnaires appreciate the benefits of living in this country especially as they are more financially stable, have a much better lifestyle and an improved standard of living for themselves and their families.”

Mr Bennett says Spalding desperately needs more social housing for both the settled and migrant communities, but the overriding need is for migrants to gain a better grasp of English.

MP Chuka Umunna says 'we lead separate lives'.

MP Chuka Umunna says 'we lead separate lives'.

He said: “It is our view that a coordinated effort across Spalding to provide both English lessons and to practice English with other residents in a variety of friendly, informal settings would bring immense benefits to the whole community.

“I hope that employers, schools, churches and voluntary organisations in Spalding can all commit to helping everyone to speak English. I would like to encourage English at all times in the workplace and even for children to ask their parents to talk to them in English at home.

“I would like all of Spalding to take part in ‘The Full English’.

“It will require a bit more patience and understanding for those of us for whom it is our mother-tongue, but it will be pleasing to see our neighbours making progress as we chat with them and get to know them better.”

More than 42 per cent of the migrant settlers surveyed cited the ‘language barrier’ as the single, most crucial issue they face.

Their lack of spoken and written English brings wide- ranging consequences and among those highlighted in the Community Connectors report are:

• A lack of understanding of British culture/laws – and how they differ from their home country

• A barrier to career development and opportunities (several of the migrant factory workers have masters degrees)

• Isolation and difficulties integrating into the local community

MP Chuka Umunna’s All Party Parliamentary Group recommends new migrants should learn English before they get here or enrol in compulsory courses when they land, but that has come too late for the East Europeans who began settling in Spalding from 1999.

In January 2016, Boston, Spalding and Wisbech were named the top three least integrated towns in the UK following mass immigration mostly from Eastern Europe.

The statement came from the think tank, Policy Exchange, which said councils should have a legal duty to improve community integration.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration, chaired by Mr Umunna, gathered evidence from Boston – which shares many of the same issues as Spalding – before publishing an interim report in January this year.

Mr Umunna said: “We must confront the fact that immigrant communities and members of the settled population in some parts of modern Britain are leading parallel rather than interconnected lives.

“We are of the view that Government – national, regional and local – cannot stand by whilst our communities fragment in this way.

“Why? Because it has left a vacuum for extremists and peddlers of hate on all sides to exploit.”

Mr Umunna said the Government must adopt a national strategy for integration of immigrants and councils should implement local integration action plans.

The MP said he met “very few” individuals who were hostile to immigration but stated: “It is clear, however, that demographic and cultural change has threatened people’s sense of security, identity and belonging within their communities and – in some instances – put pressure on local public services.”

• Among incidents reported by migrant settlers in the Community Connectors report are two “serious cases” where children were taken into care following reports from schools of injuries, which the individuals say happened accidentally.

Incidents of exploitation by employers include: withholding wages, unfair working hours, not being given days off, risk of losing job if days off are taken, unclear working hours and working six weeks with no day off.

The Community Connectors report reveals one individual, who didn’t receive back wages owed, let the issue drop to keep their job.

Complaints of exploitation by landlords included: landlords knowing tenants are not aware of their rights and have limited options to find alternative accommodation, renting a ‘room only’ for a whole family, paying £600 a month for a double room, sharing accommodation with people who have problems such as alcoholism, the landlord not providing a rent book/tenancy agreement – making it impossible for the tenant to claim housing benefit and being evicted without notice.

One person reported living without a kitchen, shower, washing machine and cooking facilities – and said they relied on takeaways for their child. Two people reported having to repay thousands of pounds awarded in tax credits when they were wrongly assumed to be cohabiting as they were in shared accommodation.

• What do you think? Email lynne.harrison@iliffepublishing.co.uk