Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the EU’s enlargement in 2004 and 2007, the UK has experienced a rise in the migration of Roma communities from central and eastern Europe. In the wake of the Brexit vote, these Roma migrants face a triple whammy of challenges. Legally, there is considerable uncertainty over the future terms of their residency in the UK (although for now their rights to free movement continue). Socially, as a vulnerable group that has experienced sustained persecution and prejudice in Europe, the surge in reported hate crime after the referendum is likely to exacerbate feelings of insecurity among the Roma community. And financially, EU funding to support Roma integration is likely to cease.
In this report, it is argued that local authorities with large Roma communities have a clear incentive to bolster their support for the integration of Roma migrants in this new context. We assert that taking action only at crisis point – for instance, at the point of homelessness or at the height of community tensions – places unnecessary pressures on public services and proves costlier in the long run than investing in early-stage interventions. While local authorities should be proactive in their approach to integrating Roma migrants, their interventions should avoid targeting Roma exclusively and outside of mainstream services: instead, it is argued, local authorities should embed specialist provision within mainstream services. This would avoid singling out Roma and thereby potentially fostering a climate of stigmatisation.
Finally, central government has an important responsibility to support local authority interventions. Up until now, the EU has been a key source of funding for Roma integration. Without any compensation from government, services are likely to struggle – to the detriment of the integration of Roma and wider community relations. Therefore call on local authorities with significant Roma populations to develop a common platform to ensure that funding shortfalls caused by Brexit are covered by central government.
- Since the fall of the Berlin Wall – and particularly following the accession of several central and eastern European nations to the EU in 2004 and 2007 – the number of Roma migrants in the UK has grown. Estimates of their precise number vary considerably, ranging between 80,000 and 300,000. Whatever the true figure, it is clear that some local areas have seen a rise in Roma migrants in recent decades – including Govanhill in Glasgow, Page Hall in Sheffield, Normanton in Derby, and Loxford in the London Borough of Redbridge.
- In the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the EU, Roma migrants from central and eastern Europe, alongside all other non-British EU citizens, face uncertainty about their future in the UK. In the short 4 IPPR | Roma communities and Brexit: Integrating and empowering Roma in the UK term, reports of a sharp increase in the number of hate crimes towards ethnic minority groups are a cause for concern and require immediate attention. In the long term, EU migrants’ legal rights of residence and access to healthcare and other public services are no longer set in stone.
- These uncertainties are particularly worrying for Britain’s Roma community as many Roma migrants face multiple dimensions of disadvantage across employment, education, housing and health. Evidence from Glasgow suggests that Roma often work in unregulated sectors of the economy, taking temporary jobs through non-statutory employment agencies, with very low wages, illegal deductions and poor working conditions. Gypsy/Roma children (as categorised by the Department for Education) tend to have high school exclusion rates and low levels of educational attainment. Research suggests that Roma tend to experience poor housing conditions and overcrowding, and are often exploited by unscrupulous landlords. Our research has found that Roma face particular barriers to accessing healthcare, often due to language difficulties and their unfamiliarity with NHS systems.
- In general, there is little evidence of widespread conflict between Roma and non-Roma groups in the UK. However, in some communities, low-level tensions have emerged between Roma and other residents, developing on the one hand from concerns about alleged anti-social behaviour among the Roma community, and on the other from fears of anti-Roma xenophobia and stigmatisation.
- Local authorities face a major funding shortfall in supporting Roma communities, which exacerbates these issues. Given the likely loss of European structural funds, there is considerable uncertainty over the future funding base for Roma integration, support and advocacy work.