Hardly a day goes by without discussion of immigration in the media. Recently, the leaking of a Home Office document outlined plans to limit immigration from the EU after Brexit, and once again, the report and surrounding discussion focused on the perceived shortcomings of immigration.
We have interviewed 40 key stakeholders representing 25 organisations run by EU migrants, mainly from central and eastern Europe. Our research has found that rather than requiring support, migrants often provide it through these groups and associations, which play a key function in the context of austerity policies.
Austerity politics have hampered integration strategies at a time when there have been increasing expectations on immigrants to integrate. Cuts to local authority budgets place pressure on these organisations, requiring them to do more with less. As one respondent noted, this means specialisms are lost:
‘Also I think there’s a real issue with people taking on responsibility for things that they’re not really qualified in … you’ve got somebody who might have worked in environmental services being given equalities as a post and knows nothing about equalities.’
Consequently, there is a reliance on voluntary organisations to fulfil some of the roles previously associated with the public sector; acting as a ‘shadow state’. This relies on volunteers contributing time, energy, emotions, and often money, to support others. Motivation is often focused on wishing to help others who are facing the difficulties they too encountered when they arrived:
‘I faced the same challenges as Polish people who arrived in Swansea who could not speak English well. My motivation was to help them.’
Others wanted to counter the negative images of immigrants in the media and provide a positive role model:
‘I am fed up with the negative image of Polish people not contributing. It affects Polish people themselves, feeling ashamed to speak Polish in public. I wanted to change this image’.
Other studies have identified how women, in particular, are associated with care-giving roles in the shadow state, often based on gender constructions of femininity. These activities are often ‘invisible’ when accounting for the work undertaken by organisations, as they take place outside work hours and work premises.
Altruism and a feeling of not being able to let people down can have implications on people’s wellbeing. Respondents spoke about not being able to go about their day-to-day lives without being approached by people who needed their advice and in some instances this had led to diagnoses of depression.
The shadow state depends a great deal on people’s benevolence and altruism to function, and much of this labour is ‘invisible’. Increasing competition for smaller pots of money means a reliance on such practices, however, this is not sustainable. Organisations are at risk of winding-up due to lack of funding, placing further pressure on those that continue.