Kidderminster: Regaining trust on immigration will also involve targeting those who trigger further division in our communities

Kidderminster in Worcestershire was the National Conversation’s 43rd visit. Our citizens’ panel in Kidderminster were mostly blue-collar workers and retirees, an anti-establishment group who were mostly ‘balancers’, seeing both positive contributions as well as challenges posed by immigration.

“There’s a lot of doctors coming in and people training to be nurses and working long hours, and people who immigrate are filling some of those job roles, but at the same time you’ve got busier hospitals, and busier GPs, and busier dentists. It’s good to have more people joining in but at the same time, you have more problems, more people more problems. Especially round here, I see, I feel that there has been more arguments, more protests, more racism, more anger towards people.”

A market town just 17 miles from Birmingham and 15 miles from Worcester, Kidderminster has a long history of migration. Although census data estimates the foreign-born population of Wyre Forest at just 3.1%, migration to the area has been diverse. Irish migrants in the 19th century onwards were joined in the 1950s and 1960s by Poles, Italians and Commonwealth migrants. EU expansion has bought further Polish and Romanian migration, and Worcestershire taken 50 Syrian families under the vulnerable persons resettlement programme.

Fairness was central to most panel members, and the panel praised the contribution of migrant workers, but in Kidderminster, some felt that “the good times have gone”. Kidderminster has lost much of its traditional Carpet industry, and many felt that economic change was leaving people behind. The group discussed agency recruitment of migrant workers causing resentment locally. There was a sense of a loss of pride in work, and concerns over deskilling. As one participant put it: “there’s no job satisfaction any more”.

While there is a strong civil society in Kidderminster, and most felt that there was a good sense of community, that people generally mixed and got along well, both stakeholder and the citizens’ panel raised concerns about pockets of active hostility across Worcestershire. A sense of loss, and a sense of relative deprivation, tied to the changing nature of work and agency employment can trigger resentment towards others, and can lay the foundations upon which far right groups can feed. This hostility was maintained by the presence of far-right groups, who have a history of activity in the West Midlands.

Anger and racism were seen by some panel members as a disadvantage accompanying immigration, and one thought that racism is “a lot worse now than it was 50 years ago”. Some were worried that children were picking up racist behaviour and sentiments from their parents, echoing stakeholder views that kids were being taken out of classes such as RE, or history by parents with xenophobic attitudes. Another spoke about her own experiences of racism which also affected her children. Shockingly, almost all participants on the citizens’ panel had direct contact with far-right material, which all participants dismissed. Most voiced anger at hearing these views, and at the way immigration was spoken about on social media.

Discrimination can fuel a sense of division, and both stakeholders and the citizens’ panel were concerned that the actions of a small proportion of those with racist views were inhibiting successful integration. One participant said:

“you see it at primary schools, the segregation comes from school kids bullying people from other countries. They get scared and then they start speaking their own language and stuff, it separates them.”

We have written before that integration is an “everybody” issue, an our visit to Kidderminster reiterated that successful integration entails support for equal opportunities, such as fair working conditions for all, and English language provision for new migrants and those seeking refuge, but it also involves removing the barriers to integration. Regaining trust on immigration will also involve targeting those triggering further division in our communities.

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