Thames Reach
Tuesday 21 November 2017
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Research highlights ways of helping Romanian migrants sleeping rough in encampments

23 May 2017


Rough sleeping encampment where Romanian migrant workers are living in North London
A rough sleeping encampment in outer London

New research has highlighted how the lives of Romanian migrants sleeping rough in encampments around London could be improved by helping them into properly paid, legal work and cheap shared housing. The encampment sites are very basic with unsanitary conditions and they can impact negatively on local communities.

‘Research into the lives of Romanian migrant workers living in encampments in London’ was commissioned by Thames Reach and funded through the Commonweal Housing Starter for 10 research competition which aims to help frontline organisations find out more about a new or emerging issue and devise solutions to it.

The research looked at the conditions in which the migrants were living, the types of work they were engaged with, and what options they would be willing to consider as an alternative to the encampments. 21 Romanian people – 19 men and two women – living in rudimentary encampments in four London boroughs were interviewed by researcher Becky Rice and Ben Sebok, a Romanian speaking outreach worker from Thames Reach.

All interviewees identified poverty and lack of opportunity as the push factors for leaving Romania and access to relatively well-paid, unskilled work as the pull factor for coming to London.

The men interviewed primarily worked in construction and labouring roles. This was nearly always ‘cash in hand’ casual work at below minimum wage levels. Exploitation was reported as common. Most of the people interviewed were sending home money to support families back in Romania.

Over half of the interviewees had experienced encampments being closed down by the police, landowner representatives and local authority staff. Following site closure, it was common for another encampment to be established close by.

The research recommended that homelessness services should help EU migrants living in encampments to access basic accommodation and move away from the informal labour market. Support with accessing accommodation should be paired with efforts to help people into legal employment and legal advice services are to be promoted.

Jeremy Swain, Thames Reach Chief Executive, said: “The nature of these informal camps creates an environment which is unsustainable, both for the people living there and the surrounding communities. Furthermore, migrant workers are taking up unregulated, casual jobs that leave them open to exploitation.

“This research seeks to understand the motivations and aspirations of this group, and give them an opportunity to talk about the kinds of work and housing they want.”

Ashley Horsey, Commonweal Housing Ltd Chief Executive, said: “The issues raised by this report are really interesting as are the challenges if we are to find a solution. Commonweal are well aware of the range of difficult questions and conversations this issue and potential solutions throws up around migration; British society’s fluid view of the informal economy and cash-in-hand working and not least the challenge to the traditional homelessness and housing sector.

“We believe there is a need for a new type of basic, cheap, flexible temporary accommodation beyond the current focus on shipping containers and modular medium term homes and Commonweal is keen to work with others to explore what that might look like.”

The research can be downloaded below, as both a full report and an executive summary.