On Saturday 10 February 2019 the Government published its long awaited Integrated Communities Strategy Paper which follows the publication of the Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper for consultation (March 2018) which the Refugee Council submitted a response to. Alongside the strategy paper the Government has also published this Action Plan which aims to outline the actions the Government will take in response to the consultation.
The Integrated Communities Strategy Paper covers a range of uses, some of which affect the people the Refugee Council work with and for. Areas and points of interest relevant to us are outlined below:
- With regards to supporting new migrants and local residents, the Government has promised, among other commitments, to trial a package of information for recent migrants to help them integration in their communities, as well as support those working with refugees to understand their particular mental health needs;
- With regards to refugees who have recently been granted status, the paper commits, amongst other things, to making it easier for refugees to access mainstream benefits and services within the ‘move-on’ or grace period, and to build on the success of the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, (VPRS);
- With regards to ESOL, the Government has promised to publish a new national strategy for ESOL in 2019 as a way of giving people access to clear information about courses and resources to help them improve their English; it has also committed to investing in developing resources for ‘pre-entry’ level English language training, with a particular focus on the needs of refugee learners;
- With regards to employment, the Paper outlines a promise to give Job Centres in Integration Areas additional funding to support more people from isolated communities into work, (though the additional funding was not specified)
- More generally, mention was made of progress in this field so far which includes the opening of a new Integrated Communities English Language Programme to providers; the distribution of new information booklets for adults and children resettled through VPRS, VCRS, and unaccompanied children transferred from Europe; a £1m funding to Reset for community sponsorship and the publication of a Loneliness Strategy to address social isolation.
Responding to this paper, Andy Hewett, Head of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, said: “Though the Government has made some welcome commitments in this Paper, we need to see much more detail on how these will actually work in practice. It is disappointing the Government seems set on seeking to gather further evidence for the barriers to integration, when there already exists a wealth of evidence surrounding this, built up over many years. The action plan could been have an opportunity for the Government to start making some progress, rather than simply going over old ground.”