4. Identifying successes and challenges
This chapter explores where local authorities have made progress in supporting refugee integration in Scotland and where they have faced challenges. It is divided into six thematic areas, covering the key responsibilities for local authorities in delivering refugee integration support (and covering the equivalent breadth of the seven key themes of the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy):
- Education and language
- Welfare rights
- Health and wellbeing
- Communities, culture and social connection.
The chapter reflects the structure of the survey for local authorities and partner organisations, which asked respondents about the level of support provided by councils across the above six themes. Respondents were asked, across 12 different areas, to rank the level of support provided by the local authority to refugees and people seeking asylum on a scale from 0 to 4 (where 0 represented no support and 4 a great deal of support). For each local authority, an average result was then calculated based on the responses from people within that local authority. Finally, an overall average was calculated from the individual local authority averages, to ensure each local authority was weighted evenly in the analysis.
Figure 4.1 summarises the results from this analysis across each of the 12 areas, including:
- access to ESOL education
- help with the recognition of qualifications
- access to training opportunities
- access to employment opportunities
- access to benefits and other financial support
- access to suitable and safe housing options
- help setting up home
- help tackling homelessness
- access to healthcare
- help with meeting general health and wellbeing needs
- help with tackling social isolation and loneliness
- access to culture, heritage and sporting activities and opportunities.
The chart therefore allows for a comparison across all the different policy areas discussed in the survey. It suggests that the highest levels of provision are in the areas of ESOL, benefits and financial support, safe and suitable housing, setting up home, tackling homelessness, and access to healthcare. The lowest levels of provision are in areas such as the recognition of qualifications and access to culture, heritage and sporting activities and opportunities. The differences in scoring are likely a result of the different responsibilities of local authorities. Under the funding arrangements for the resettlement schemes, local authorities are generally required to provide accommodation, help with accessing benefits and healthcare, and (excepting the Ukraine schemes) ESOL support. There are not, however, the same requirements to support people with recognition of qualifications or provide access to culture, heritage, and sport. The scores may also reflect the differing needs of refugees; as became clear from the case study research, specific emphasis is placed on areas of support such as ESOL, housing and benefits, because they are essential building blocks to supporting long-term integration outcomes.
Source: IPPR analysis of local authority survey
The following sections explore the results of the survey in more depth. For each of the six themes, findings from the survey analysis and case study research are reported. This analysis highlights the key successes and challenges for local authorities in delivering humanitarian protection programmes and refugee integration across these six themes.
Education and language
Education and training for both children and adults play a critical role in the integration of refugees and people seeking asylum. Education provision can support skills development, labour market participation, and community integration (OECD 2019). Language learning is widely recognised as being of particular importance for supporting refugee integration, by helping to improve access to employment, wellbeing, and community contact (Coley et al., 2019).
In Scotland, education is a devolved competence, and there has been a longstanding distinct education system compared with the rest of the UK. The executive agency Education Scotland leads on quality and improvement in education. Local authorities are responsible for delivery and have a statutory duty to ensure adequate provision of school and further education in their areas.
Under the funding instructions for the different resettlement schemes, local authorities are responsible for providing education places for school-age children. For the Home Office’s resettlement schemes, they also have a duty to provide English language training for adults, including where appropriate eight hours per week of Formal Language Training within a month of arrival (for at least a year or until Entry Level 3 is reached if sooner). In the case of the Ukraine schemes, however, there is no additional funding or specific requirement to provide ESOL provision.
For school-age children, the Scottish Government has a number of policies in place which help to support their inclusion and integration. Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) – the Scottish Government’s approach to enhancing the wellbeing of children and young people – aims to provide a ‘scaffold of support’ in response to their needs (Scottish Government 2023e). Under the Scottish Government’s policy and legislation on Additional Support for Learning, local authorities are required to make provision for children and young people with additional support needs, including by supporting those with English as an additional language (Scottish Government 2017a).
For higher education, refugees who are eligible under the residency criteria do not have to pay tuition fees for their first degree (or equivalent) when studying full time. People seeking asylum may access higher education but cannot receive student support. For further education, however, part-time and non-advanced college courses are free for people seeking asylum (Scottish Government 2018).
The Scottish Government also takes a distinct approach to the delivery of ESOL provision. ESOL is part of the Adult Learning Strategy for Scotland 2022-2027. The former 2015-2020 English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) strategy – which the new strategy commits to reviewing – set out a vision to ensure that:
“all Scottish residents for whom English is not a first language have the opportunity to access high quality English language provision so that they can acquire the language skills to enable them to participate in Scottish life: in the workplace, through further study, within the family, the local community, Scottish society and the economy.” (Scottish Government 2015a)
The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has developed ESOL qualifications for different learner needs, from National 2 ESOL (beginner) to Higher ESOL (advanced). Courses are delivered by a range of different organisations – including local authorities, universities, colleges, schools, private providers, and the third sector – and often through partnerships between providers. Unlike in England, ESOL courses are free for people seeking asylum.
Community Learning and Development (CLD) practices are central to the delivery of education provision in Scotland, particularly in the case of post-16 and ESOL provision. CLD encompasses a range of different activities which aim to improve opportunities for learners and build community capacity. Under the Requirements for Community Learning and Development (Scotland) Regulations 2013, local authorities in Scotland are required to facilitate CLD work in their area, where CLD is defined as “programmes of learning and activities designed with individuals and groups to promote the educational and social development of those individuals and groups”. In the case of language learning, community ESOL is a common form of CLD practice, which involves the delivery of accredited and/or non-accredited classes in a community setting (e.g. a library or community centre). Classes may include a focus on employability or social integration or involve informal peer learning and community volunteers.
In light of the overarching context set out above, the survey explored how local authorities are delivering school-age and adult education.
Respondents were asked about current challenges and pressures in relation to education for refugees and people seeking asylum in their local authority. A recurrent issue across a number of responses was the limited space available in many schools, with some families having to travel significant distances to attend a school with available space. It was also raised that, depending on the availability of housing, children were being placed in schools that had not previously supported children with English as an additional language – with reduced provision or expertise available to support these children. Particular pressure points were identified around large families, unaccompanied children and young people who “often have interrupted schooling and require additional support”, and – looking ahead – to the additional spaces that may be needed as a result of full dispersal. For unaccompanied young people in particular, one respondent raised the challenge of supporting and accommodating older pupils in mainstream provision – given the likely gaps in schooling and language barrier that they face. For such young people, flexible pathways into ESOL and further education were thought to be more appropriate.
There was evidence in the survey, however, that despite these challenges, finding school places and ensuring that children are supported in school is a high priority for local authorities. One respondent highlighted that their council places an “emphasis” on ensuring that all children who move into the area, including those housed in hotels and temporary accommodation, are offered a school place. Another wrote that schools in their local area have been “very supportive indeed”, in ensuring that children are involved in extra-curricular activities that help build their confidence and improve their English. One respondent in a rural local authority area also wrote of the successes that can come with effective English as Additional Language (EAL) support, highlighting that the local EAL service has “built significant experience and developed resources and training for schools”, and as a result young people in the area have built their literacy skills and many have “gone on to achieve qualifications, including SQA ESOL.”
Regarding adult education, survey respondents referred infrequently to further and higher education specifically (though discussion of ESOL, below, is inclusive of further education). Those who did referred to the entry of refugees into adult education as a signifier of successful integration work. For instance, one local authority manager in a small urban area wrote:
“Historically two Syrian families via VPRS have set up their own businesses and moved onto further education. One Ukraine guest has accessed further education to potentially become a primary school teacher and recently took up employment as a primary school assistant at a private school.”
Asked about how ESOL is delivered within their local authority, respondents referred to a mix of council-run courses and partnerships with local colleges and third sector organisations. Councils tended to provide beginners SQA classes directly, while colleges were often involved for higher-level learning. Delivery tended to be through a mix of online and face-to-face sessions.
There were widespread concerns over the lack of funding and pressures on the system, including difficulties meeting the demand for school and ESOL places. Particular concerns were raised over supporting recent Ukrainian arrivals, who one resettlement manager in a suburban authority noted were “keen to learn English and find jobs” but “may be a little frustrated at times with the provision”. One respondent in Aberdeenshire explained that the nature of the Homes for Ukraine scheme meant that refugees were more spread out across the local authority, because they moved to accommodation with spare rooms, rather than where there might be pre-existing migrant and refugee communities. This made language provision harder to deliver.
Some respondents also mentioned running community-based ESOL or more informal ‘conversation classes’ for learners. Hybrid models that blend formal provision – in-person and online classes – with community-based provision were mentioned a number of times by respondents. For instance, one lifelong learning worker in a rural authority area highlighted that a key part of their ESOL provision was community-based conversation classes, as well as classes for women specifically. It was acknowledged by the resettlement lead in a suburban area that volunteer provision supplemented the council’s provision and was “well attended by our guests.”
It is apparent from survey responses on ESOL provision that local authorities and their partners in schools, colleges, universities and the third sector, as well as in local communities, are taking a creative and needs-led approach to respond to the language learning needs of refugee communities. This is something explored in more detail through the case studies below.
Case study findings
In Aberdeenshire, a mobile English as an Additional Language (EAL) service provides comprehensive support to children, families and schools. They assist newly arrived families to navigate the education system, provide information and support to schools about new pupils, support enrolment, support families to understand and access their entitlements (e.g. free school meals), assess and monitor English language progress, refer into mainstream specialist provision (e.g. speech and language therapy), provide training and share good practice, and develop resources for schools and teachers such as the ‘Culturally Responsive Schools’ toolkit (forthcoming).
Additional resources were put into the EAL team to support Syrian and Afghan families, with a two-day per week post (funded by the Home Office) offering early intensive help for these families from the date of their arrival in Scotland. However, it was noted by one stakeholder that the same level of support had not been possible for Ukrainians due to the scale of arrivals. In a few months they had received over 70 referrals for Ukrainian children, and so they had “fallen back to the normal route where the school would send a referral to our service and the normal EAL teacher for the school would follow up the referral, cos it’s just been impossible to follow them all up.”
In supporting unaccompanied children and young people seeking asylum, the EAL service also recognised particular challenges for this group in accessing education. One challenge relates to the often large gaps that young people have experienced in schooling, meaning that they tend to have additional support needs that can’t always be met by schools. With increased numbers of young people, and a quicker pace of arrivals via the NTS, this had placed pressures on local schools and support services. Moreover, due to availability of housing, most had been located in the same area and had been placed in the same school –placing pressure on that school in particular.
In the face of these challenges, the EAL service has been proactive and creative. For instance, it launched a Microsoft Teams space where resources were made available to parents and teachers alike and where people can ask questions and share information. The group has around 200 members. Multi-agency working (as described in chapter 3) has also provided a strong foundation for managing and responding to such ongoing challenges.
With respect to further and higher education, stakeholders tended to refer to individual cases of refugees enrolling on college and university courses as illustrative of successful integration locally - for instance, one Syrian man had gained a degree at a local agricultural college. Some stakeholders interviewed noted that there was a bit of a mismatch between the expectations of refugees and unaccompanied young people in accessing further and higher education and the reality, with some individuals frustrated by the inability to enrol onto their course of choice before gaining the required level of English proficiency, for instance.
One refugee woman interviewed in Aberdeenshire expressed frustrations with further education as she could not enrol on her preferred course due to it being fulltime only, which did not fit around her childcare responsibilities. She had been advised by the college to seek an apprenticeship instead, but so far had been unable to secure a workplace that would take her on as an apprentice – this, she said, made her feel “sad, because this not my plan… I just sit and wait.”
In terms of ESOL, Aberdeenshire’s approach to supporting refugees to learn English has developed over time. The area has moved from a system where different providers offered siloed provision, to a system that is joined up across the council’s CLD team, WEA Scotland (Workers Educational Association, a charitable provider of adult education) and local colleges. All new arrivals are assessed by the CLD team to ensure consistency and accuracy in assessments and are then signposted to the most appropriate provision dependent on their level of English. Beginners are entered onto a WEA course, and those with an intermediate level of English onto a college course. The online provision that WEA offer is highly regarded and is seen to be particularly helpful for ensuring refugees in rural areas can access quality-ESOL classes. This was also thought to improve access for mothers who, one local authority worker told us, “never wanted to leave their kids in a creche.”
Interviews with refugees in Aberdeenshire highlighted that learning English is a priority for individuals and families, and that this was a key area with which they had received support from the local authority. Two key challenges, however, were raised by one family. First, as learners improve their English and move on to college-based learning, travel can be a barrier – one woman studying a more advanced course was enrolled at a college one hour away from her home. This can create additional challenges for families with dependent children, and women in particular. As the primary carer to her children, the long distance to college was especially problematic, as her husband shared:
“It doesn’t seem to be feasible for us because my wife has to take our child to school at nine o’clock. I don’t know, this might create a difficulty for her to join her classes or taking care of our child and taking him to school and getting him back to home. So this might be a problem for us, and that’s why we have approached many housing associations, and we are trying to get a home [closer to the college] in order for my wife to continue ESOL classes in college, and also continue life.”
In Dundee, a small EAL team, housed within the council’s Accessibility and Inclusion Service, supports newly arrived refugees into school. They take a ‘three-pronged’ approach that supports pupils, families and schools. In a city where over 80 languages are spoken, the team is very busy - and particularly so following the arrival of around 60 Ukrainian pupils during the summer holidays (in 2022). The team were committed to offering a consistent level of service to these families, as they had done with previous Syrian groups and other new arrivals. As one stakeholder said:
“We really emphasise the importance of an enhanced welcome and enrolment meeting where we sit down individually with families with an interpreter to allow them to share background with us, so we know about everything from the child’s educational background, additional support needs help, and anything else families want to share with us. So it’s been an emotional time for our team meeting with all these families because they really appreciated that one-to-one approach that we do in Dundee.”
A person-centred approach means that the EAL team supports children, young people and their families not only in education, but with emotional and social support needs too. The team works in partnership with schools, and with other agencies (such as health, police, social work) via the council’s Humanitarian Protection Partnership – which means that a full package of support for families is offered.
One particularly good example of partnership working emerged through collaboration with the adult ESOL team. An initiative to set up a ‘homework club’, where ESOL volunteers supported (largely Syrian) refugee students in two secondary schools was widely attended. However, the clubs were paused while the ESOL team focused their efforts on the new intake of Ukrainians – it was hoped that these could be restarted in the future.
One issue raised in relation to school provision for new refugee communities is the variable expertise and support that schools are able to provide for refugee pupils. In Dundee, a stakeholder indicated that one school in particular excels at offering a trauma-informed approach to supporting their refugee students, while others display “a lack of understanding about how difficult it is to find yourself uprooted and in another country and in school and learning a language perhaps you don’t want to learn.” Efforts to improve teacher training courses, so that new teachers are better prepared to support an increasingly diverse student group, alongside the provision of ongoing training and development for school staff, were thought to be important to bring all schools up to the same standard when it comes to pastoral support for refugee pupils.
For stakeholders that spoke about young people’s education, a common concern was apparent around the education provision for unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people. While stakeholders understood that “education is an absolute priority” for this group, it was also reported that some schools would not accept young people aged 16 or over, and as such young teenagers were initially placed in adult ESOL provision.
Local authority staff worked with Dundee and Angus College to use ESOL partnership funding to create a summer school for UASC living in the city and young people, aged 16-18, who had arrived from Ukraine. Young people from across Dundee, Angus and Fife were invited to apply and were able to enjoy a supported transition to college over the summer. As well as formal ESOL tuition, staff from Dundee and Angus college helped the young people with applications and all of them were able to gain places to study at college in September.
The adult ESOL team generally works with people aged over 18, but has occasionally supported young people over 16 who have not been able to access language tuition elsewhere, when there has been capacity within the team and where it has been deemed to be appropriate. As a result of the conflict in Ukraine, the number of adults arriving in the city seeking to learn English has meant that the team no longer has the capacity to support people under 18 as there is a waiting list for this adult service. There is, therefore, the potential for some young people to be unable to access any education provision at all.
As with Aberdeenshire, mention of further and higher education by Dundee stakeholders was largely related to sharing individual case studies of services supporting refugees to go to college and university, where this had been identified as their aspiration. For instance, one young person who had been out of education for a long time was supported to enrol in college for a vocational Higher National Diploma (HND) and then went on to university. Two of the resettled refugees interviewed explained that they were drawn to move from England to Dundee because of the quality of further and higher education and the free tuition which their children could access in Scotland.
ESOL was a prevalent part of the research team’s discussions with stakeholders in Dundee, and there were a number of projects and initiatives demonstrating effective and collaborative practice in supporting refugees to learn English in the city. Given how closely related they are, a number of initiatives relate to both ESOL and employability, with further examples discussed in detail in the next section.
A report from Dundee’s ESOL team shows the extent of their support for new Ukrainian arrivals. In less than six months, the team assessed over 170 Ukrainians and registered them either for ESOL support or employability support. Figures available for 140 of these individuals show that 32% were assessed at beginner level, 24% at elementary, 28% at pre-intermediate/intermediate and 16% at upper intermediate/advanced.
Due to this increase in learners, the council and education providers have had to adapt their usual approach to delivering ESOL in Dundee. As before, the council focused on supporting adult learners at beginner-elementary level and Dundee and Angus college on learners working at pre-intermediate level and above. Due to the demand, the council and college have increased their community based ESOL classes to extend capacity, particularly for those people at beginner-elementary levels (totalling 56% of all new Ukrainians registered for ESOL support in the city). Dundee University has also responded by running classes for learners at intermediate and above levels, providing additional support for Ukrainians and other new arrivals in the city. The council also increased the ESOL summer courses it normally holds in local parks, in order to allow Ukrainian citizens arriving in the city additional opportunities to learn English and navigate the city together as a family prior to children starting school in August.
In addition, like other local authorities, Dundee have piloted a self-study online course (with input from online tutors) from Klik2Learn. This has been rolled out on a pilot basis with new Ukrainian arrivals to ensure they could get quick access to learning materials before accessing in-house provision. The Klik2Learn service has been evaluated as being very helpful at a time of unprecedented demand; however despite being a ‘self-study’ course, the success of the pilot required face-to-face IT and linguistics support, as well as ensuring learners had access to devices. Looking ahead, both staff and learners have indicated a preference for more traditional face to face ESOL learning. Despite these limitations, some ESOL learners enjoyed managing their own learning and progressed well with the Klik2Learn platform – for these learners, Dundee council hopes to continue to offer this approach to learning on a more limited basis.
A survey, conducted in 2022 by the Dundee and Angus ESOL partnership, of ESOL learners found that the key reasons people give for learning English are to build their confidence, meet new people and help them to secure a new or better job. Asked how ESOL could be improved, around 30% (of 147 respondents) asked for more classes. The survey also evaluated respondents’ views on online versus face-to-face classes. While face-to-face classes have increased since lockdown restrictions eased, online classes are now a feature of the city’s offer to learners. For some – i.e. for people who can’t drive or have childcare responsibilities – this is seen favourably, while for others it presents challenges. As one ESOL worker said:
“Some of them they don’t have IT skills, or they just don’t like that online learning, they want the more personal relationship which they had prior to the Klik2Learn. So it’s mixed reviews, and from what I picked up from observing the sessions… I think the younger learners are doing better than the slightly older ones, and again it differs from person to person how they’re feeling.”
Initiatives such as the ‘Conversation Café’ and the ‘Out and About’ walking group illustrate the proactive and creative approach that ESOL practitioners in Dundee take to providing access to quality and practical ESOL provision. The Conversation Café, held in various sites across the city – including at the V&A museum and at Dundee University’s student union – are spaces where people can come to “chit-chat” and “practise their English speaking”, while the ‘Out and About’ walking group helps people to orientate in the city – to know “street names and shop names”, while also learning and practising their English. These initiatives, which take English learning outside of the classroom, aim to support refugees not only to learn the language but to meet new people, get to know their new home better, and integrate with the local community.
Having a blended approach to English language learning is important to Dundee council. Beyond a formal, intensive approach to learning, their community-based ESOL team supports the integration of the newest arrivals in the city, as well as promoting their English language skills. This approach not only complements formal provision but also allows the ESOL team to tailor their services based on the interests and expertise of both learners and staff. By utilising volunteers in conjunction with CLD staff, the council effectively increases its capacity to deliver English language provision and meet the growing demand for ESOL support in the community.
In Na h-Eileanan Siar, only a small number of families have been resettled in the area and there is very little other inward migration. Supporting children and young people into education therefore is a highly personalised process, with the resettlement support worker supporting individuals into school and nursery places on arrival. Stakeholder interviews indicated that part of supporting new arrivals included listening to the concerns and fears of parents in adapting to a new educational context and managing their expectations around these. For example, people coming from contexts where education is delivered in single-sex settings sometimes expressed concerns about the mixed-sex educational approach. One family had faced delays with accessing early years provision, due to the limited capacity of nurseries in Stornoway. However, there were also successes – for instance, stakeholders spoke about a young Syrian boy who was excelling at learning Gaelic in school, and who had been featured in the local newspaper as a result.
There is one further education college in Na h-Eileanan Siar, with a number of campuses across the islands. Researchers were told about one Syrian man who had been supported by the resettlement worker to apply for a hairdressing course at UHI Outer Hebrides, and to attend a barbering training course in Glasgow. He has since opened a successful and thriving barbershop on the islands – and has been featured on BBC Scotland. Another stakeholder, working with Afghan families on the islands, found the college to be very supportive and willing to offer advice on different options for adult learners. A refugee interviewed for the project spoke about the support they received from the council’s resettlement worker to enrol on a three-month course at the college. While only small numbers of refugees have been resettled in Na h-Eileanan Siar, it is apparent that they have been able to access personalised support with accessing education and training, through both the support of the resettlement worker and the broader networks and connections that the islands offer.
ESOL provision in Na h-Eileanan Siar had to develop rapidly in order to respond to the new refugee community. When the first Syrian families arrived, workers in the local authority prioritised funding towards supporting people to learn English. Initially, tutors were put in place for individuals, and subsequently the adults received eight hours per week in a group setting. This first intake of English learners brought their children and babies to class, with volunteers providing a childcare function to enable adults to learn. Learners progressed at different paces, and as such the group was split – with those struggling receiving more intensive one-to-one support, and additional opportunities (e.g. work placements) made available for those who had made more progress.
The council also coordinated a volunteer base who could support the new arrivals through more informal conversations. This had the added benefit of supporting their wider integration into the local and close-knit community. As one volunteer explained:
“One of my friends and I, informally, used to work with two women who were quite friendly with each other, and we would take them around the shops, we would go for a coffee. We did a day trip to Inverness on the ferry with them, which went down very well. So, it has been a mixture of befriending, helping with the language, taking them shopping… [One lady joined] a knitting group in Stornoway and when she was brought to that the first time she had hardly any English. But gradually she got more and more confident and although she sat next to me, you know, she used to speak to the other ladies; when it was coffee time, she’d go and make the coffee, and her English improved, her self-confidence improved.”
This combination of class-based and community-based ESOL was seen to be crucial for language acquisition and integration in Na h-Eileanan Siar, as one stakeholder explained: “a good strategy going forward is to have that language acquisition support outside of an ESOL setting”.
However, roadblocks have emerged when it comes to resourcing ESOL in Na h-Eileanan Siar. The fall in resettlement numbers during the pandemic disrupted the council’s ESOL funding model, which relied on resettling two families every year, and so the [two] council ESOL posts had to be cut. Moreover, contracts for ESOL tutors tend to be short-term for limited and unpredictable hours, and so at the time of fieldwork the council was facing challenges in recruiting tutors for face-to-face teaching.
Education and training for both children and adults play a critical role in the integration of refugees and people seeking asylum. Local authorities are responsible for providing education places for school-age children and English language training for adults under the Home Office’s resettlement schemes.
Concerns were raised over limited school spaces for young people arriving in Scotland, with some families having to travel significant distances to attend a school with available space. Moreover, children were not always placed in schools with experience and expertise in providing appropriate English as an Additional Language (EAL) support for new arrivals. There were particular pressure points in relation to large families, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people who had experienced interrupted schooling.
Ensuring children are supported in school remains a high priority for local authorities, despite challenges over limited school places and provision for children with English as an additional language. Survey responses highlighted the expertise built by local EAL services and support provided by extra-curricular activities to help children learn English and build confidence. In Dundee, an example was given of a ‘homework club’ for refugee students set up in partnership between the EAL and adult ESOL teams, which had been widely attended.
ESOL is delivered via a mix of council-run courses and partnerships with local colleges and third sector organisations, including both online and face-to-face sessions. Community-based ESOL and ‘conversation classes’ for learners play a critical role in complementing more formal approaches, and in meeting the demand for English language provision among new arrivals.
Many local authorities are taking a creative and needs-led approach to ESOL provision, in the face of high demand and funding pressures. Aberdeenshire, for instance, has developed a joined-up ESOL system between the council’s CLD team, WEA Scotland (a charitable provider of adult education), and local colleges, where all new arrivals are initially assessed by the CLD team and then signposted to appropriate provision. In Dundee, examples were given of a creative initiative to blend ESOL provision with wider integration work, such as an ‘Out and About’ walking group to take English learning outside of the classroom and orientate people to the city.
In Na h-Eileanan Siar, there were practical challenges with resourcing ESOL due to the fall in resettlement numbers during the pandemic, which meant that the two council posts had to be cut and funding was only available for part-time staff with limited hours. Yet there was also evidence of creative work on the part of the council in recent years – for instance, in involving volunteers to support with childcare while adults participated in ESOL classes.
Securing employment and in-work progression are central for refugee integration. Past research has suggested that people who have moved to the UK for asylum reasons are less likely to be employed and on average have lower earnings than others (Kone et al., 2019). Challenges in the labour market include language barriers, lack of formal recognition of professional qualifications from other countries, and restrictions on the right to work for people seeking asylum (see below). This means that, while refugees have a diverse set of skills, experiences and qualifications, they cannot always apply them in the labour market. There is therefore often a need for bespoke employability support for refugees and people seeking asylum.
Under the Home Office’s resettlement programmes, the funding instructions for local authorities require them to provide assistance with access to employment in year 1. For years 2-5, funding is flexible but employment support is meant to continue. For the Ukraine schemes, local authorities are also expected to offer support with work and benefits. People seeking asylum are generally not able to work, but they may be employed after 12 months of awaiting an initial decision (and where the delay is not considered their fault) if the job is on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) (House of Commons Library 2022).
The UK, Scottish and local governments are all involved in the delivery of employability provision in Scotland. Jobcentre Plus, part of the Department for Work and Pensions, provides employment support and advice across the UK. At the same time, the Scottish Government is responsible for skills and training policy and each local authority in Scotland has its own employability service. There are a number of employability policies and programmes delivered by the Scottish Government, local authorities, and other providers:
- No One Left Behind is Scotland’s strategy for employment support. The approach is driven by a series of core principles, including the delivery of ‘person-centred’ and ‘flexible’ provision which helps people ‘into the right job at the right time’. As part of No One Left Behind, funding allocations are provided to councils to support the delivery of local employability services (Scottish Government NDa). These are delivered through local employability partnerships, involving a range of partners including local councils, Skills Development Scotland, Department for Work and Pensions / Jobcentre Plus, colleges, and private and third sector organisations (Scottish Government NDb).
- Launched in 2018, following the partial devolution of employment support services, Fair Start Scotland is Scotland’s employability service, targeted at supporting the long-term unemployed and people with disabilities to (re-)enter work. The service is devolved to nine contract areas across Scotland, involving a mix of local government, private and third sector providers (Scottish Government NDc).
- The Young Person’s Guarantee offers opportunities for all 16-24 year olds in Scotland to access a job, apprenticeship, education, training, volunteering or enterprise opportunity. Activities are delivered through local employability partnerships (Scottish Government NDd).
An important part of supporting refugee integration into the labour market is help with getting prior skills and qualifications recognised in Scotland. For the recognition of educational and professional qualifications, it is possible to apply for a ‘Statement Of Comparability’ through the UK-ENIC service. This requires sufficient evidence demonstrating the level of existing overseas qualification (UK ENIC 2023). However, UK-ENIC does not cover all forms of work skills and training.
The Scottish Government tried to address challenges in relation to the recognition of qualifications and broader skills shortages in the labour market by piloting a ‘Skills Recognition Hub’ to help support the recognition of training gained in other countries in sectors including social care, construction and hospitality (Scottish Government 2019). The pilot has now been developed into Skills Recognition Scotland, a service which helps people to map their international skills to the Scottish qualifications framework (SRS ND).
Given the overall context of employability work in Scotland, the survey sought to understand how local authorities delivered employability services in practice and the successes and challenges they had found with their work. The survey responses indicate that councils typically deliver work through their employability teams, alongside partnerships with a wide range of different suppliers, including Jobcentre Plus / DWP, Skills Development Scotland, Fair Start Scotland, as well as further education colleges, charities and social enterprises. Responses suggest that councils tend to coordinate this work, through formal consortia and dedicated workstreams on employability as part of wider refugee resettlement work. For instance, Dumfries and Galloway have a multi-agency ‘Resettlement Project Board’ responsible for agreeing and delivering resettlement work, which names ‘education and employment’ as a key workstream.
The most prevalent need identified by survey respondents was English language acquisition. Addressing the language barrier that prevents refugees from accessing and progressing in the labour market is foundational for resettlement work. ESOL and employability are often interlinked, with English-language classes tailored to support learners into employment. For instance, North Lanarkshire commissioned a private language school in Glasgow to “deliver a bespoke ESOL Employability course that was linked to a work placement in North Lanarkshire Council”. Respondents also mentioned activities such as support with CV and interview preparation, identifying training opportunities, and recruitment events with employers. Some noted that specific services were needed for Ukrainian arrivals given the recent increase and explained that dedicated advisors were being hired.
We asked respondents for examples of successes in the areas of education and employment. Respondents highlighted instances of effective employability courses and workshops and demonstrated how their work had helped refugees to find jobs or start up their own businesses. They also emphasised the importance of partnership working, including with colleges, employers, and the third sector. Examples of local activities included:
- In West Lothian, a programme to support Syrian women into work, which offered a qualification and helped participants to build confidence and find out about new employment opportunities.
- In West Dunbartonshire, the opportunity for ESOL learners to access other learning opportunities, such as SQA Childcare and Digital Literacy courses, with creche funding through the resettlement programme.
- In Argyll and Bute, support from the council’s Business Gateway services with helping refugees set up their own business, including entrepreneurial training courses and advice for developing business cases. This led to refugees opening a number of successful businesses (Argyll and Bute Council 2016-2019).
- In East Renfrewshire, training opportunities for refugees are identified through the council’s ‘community benefits’ initiative, where council suppliers and contractors that secure large contracts are required to support local causes, e.g. through offering training and employment opportunities and work placements.
Respondents also noted a range of challenges and pressures when asked by the survey. As well as English language barriers (discussed above), childcare responsibilities were also noted as a major barrier for progressing education and employment. One respondent noted that English language difficulties meant that refugees tended to do work which does not reflect their prior experience, while others said that a lack of qualifications – or difficulties in translating qualifications from other countries – made finding work difficult. One respondent, from East Lothian Council, mentioned that the council had started to work on the “translation of existing qualifications” for Ukrainian guests, but overall this was not prominently featured in survey responses.
Going forward, some respondents emphasised the importance of offering ESOL and employability support and providing work placements to build on existing skills. Others highlighted building closer links with employers and called for additional funding and staffing to assist greater numbers of people.
Case study findings
In Aberdeenshire, the council have a great deal of in-house expertise, including in employment support – with a dedicated employability worker supporting refugees to access employment opportunities, in partnership with Jobcentre Plus and “mainstream employability streams”. They work closely with ESOL colleagues to help refugees improve their language skills where this is holding them back from gainful employment. Supporting refugees into employment is understood by the resettlement team to be “crucial” for promoting integration and for helping refugees forge “relationships outwith their own group and starting to get more social contacts and learning more about their community”. This model of support was also commended by a voluntary sector worker in Aberdeen (who supported refugees in Aberdeenshire). They said:
“the Shire’s done a lot of good work around the employment stuff… when one of the local New Scots is looking for support with employment stuff, they have someone that they know that they can go to… and you could access that support and that person was sort of tuned into everything else that was going on so… they knew who to direct you towards and they knew who else they could pull in… I felt like that was really well organised there.”
Stakeholders also pointed to some of the challenges facing refugees looking for work in the Aberdeenshire area. Refugees were “picking up on” the news about job losses during the pandemic and a more general downturn in the oil industry and were concerned that they would face a “greater relative disadvantage because they were now in this pool of even more skilled workers”. As elsewhere in Scotland, the challenge of recognising qualifications was also mentioned. Resettlement workers also spoke about the unique challenges facing Syrian refugees, who tend to have been doing labouring work, perhaps without qualifications, in their home country. Moreover, resettled refugees on the Syrian VPRS had usually been selected to resettle as a result of particular vulnerabilities (i.e. health conditions) that may put them at a disadvantage in the labour market.
Employment was a prominent topic of discussion among the refugees interviewed in Aberdeenshire – and they presented a mixed picture. While some were working, this was often in roles significantly below their existing qualifications. One man who had resettled in 2021 felt held back by being placed in a rural setting – even though eventually he had been successful in finding a highly-skilled job. He told researchers:
“…where I’ve settled down in Peterhead, someone in his or her sixties would have been a good place for him or her to be settled down here. I’m a young person, I have energy and I should work, I should work and become independent, and it would have been much better for me to have been resettled in a bigger city, like Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, because in Peterhead there’s only so many opportunities around.”
However, there were plenty of success stories too. For instance, one person was working for a local engineering firm, while another was learning English alongside volunteering in a local nursery setting – both with the support of resettlement workers. For resettlement workers in Aberdeenshire, success came in varied guises - while for some success looked like moving into work, for others completing an ESOL course or training programme or finding a volunteering opportunity was also a big achievement on the path to employment:
“Sometimes it’s the smaller steps for me that are seen as the bigger [successes]. You just know that this is the first step in something moving forward… So it can be lots of different things, even volunteering and things like that, because again, it’s stepping outside their norm. Improving their English, all these things, is just that step towards securing long-term employment.”
In Dundee, innovative practices supporting refugees into employment have developed as a result of joint work between ESOL and Employability teams in the city.
For instance, Dundee City Council led on the NSRIDP project ‘Building Skills Together’ (funded by Scottish Government and AMIF), which aimed to support resettled refugees to get the certification they need to be able to work in the construction industry. Building on refugees’ existing skills and qualifications, two training courses were developed for beginner and advanced learners to provide students with the language skills and knowledge needed to pass the CSCS operative test (Construction Skills Certification Scheme, which functions as a licence to work on a construction site). The project was evaluated as having successfully engaged almost 50 learners (by November 2022), with many passing their test. Another successful element of the project was the partnership working, not only with the construction sector and WEA ESOL tutors, but also with neighbouring Fife and Clackmannanshire councils – whose engagement enabled pilot projects to test the materials with refugees and migrant groups who had previously worked in the construction sector prior to moving to Scotland. A key outcome of the project has been that the resources developed through the course of the project are now available free to use across the UK.
Another project which had initial success in Dundee was a collaboration between the council’s ESOL and Employability teams to develop an eight-week course to support refugees to develop their language skills and employment prospects. During the course, learners were supported to understand how to apply for jobs, prepare for interviews, about their employment rights, national insurance, health and safety and other aspects of workplace culture – with the aim of building confidence in people looking for work. The project also helped to connect individuals with local employers through links with the employability team.
The course was delivered eight times, with the first of these being very successful – five of eight participants quickly moved into employment and full-time education. However, subsequent courses did not manage to achieve the same level of success. This was due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which reduced the effectiveness of collaborative working while teams were delivering lessons either online, or in very restrictive socially distanced in-person classes. Followed swiftly by the Ukraine schemes, Dundee’s ESOL provision has been over-subscribed, and the team has had to refocus resources to support new arrivals. While the scope for innovation in ESOL delivery has been limited by the dual impact of the pandemic and the arrival of Ukrainians, the council’s Employability Team has continued to provide employability support to resettled refugees.
A key challenge raised by stakeholders related to skills matching and skills recognition of refugees who arrive in Scotland with existing qualifications and experience. Stakeholders spoke about highly skilled plasterers, joiners, and carpenters who were well-established in their home countries but were working in low-paid jobs in Dundee, because there is no formal process to officially verify their training or skills. As noted above, Skills Recognition Scotland is a new service which supports with skills recognition, but one interviewee expressed concern that more work was needed to help those with below-intermediate level skills. These barriers had impacted their wellbeing and self-esteem. As one council officer put it:
“So, people who [are] like an artisan carver or plasterer or bricklayer cannot work in that… they’re getting jobs as takeaway drivers on zero hours contracts, and that then becomes extremely soul destroying for them, so they become depressed, and they become long term unemployed.”
However, initiatives such as the ‘Building Skills Together’ programme, discussed above, illustrate the proactive approach that Dundee council takes in order to tackle the systemic problems faced by refugees in accessing employment.
One interviewee with lived experience, a Syrian refugee (who had been through the asylum system), spoke about her experience of trying to progress her career as an architect. Teaching Arabic online while trying to verify her qualification, she spoke about the challenges and the costs that come with the process:
“the procedures which I have to follow are complicated and this process takes about three years and I have to pass three exams. I have to pay for each exam like one thousand six hundred pounds, and if I [do not] pass it, so I have to pay again for this exam, which is, like, a really complicated process.”
She described how she had not been able to access the same level of tailored employability support that was described by some other participants that had come to Scotland via a resettlement route, though she had signed up for support from Skills Recognition Scotland.
In Na h-Eileanan Siar, the council provides bespoke employability support to resettled refugees – for instance, supporting one Syrian man to become a barber by sourcing a training programme for him and helping him open his own barber shop . Multiple stakeholders described how the council resettlement worker takes a needs-led approach to supporting new arrivals to access relevant training and work-based placements. Employability support is a core element of the resettlement offer, with the council working in partnership with the training officer at the DWP locally to support refugees to access training opportunities.
Stakeholders highlighted the importance of understanding refugees’ favoured employment pathways and developing their confidence over time by identifying suitable work and volunteering opportunities. Examples were given of people who had been supported into meaningful volunteer and work roles through both community links and the council. For instance, refugees had found work or volunteer roles in a local Arts Centre, with the council, and at a local charity shop.
There were some notable success stories of entrepreneurialism in Na h-Eileanan Siar, with evidence of the local community supporting new businesses owned and operated by refugees. For instance, as one stakeholder explained:
“Another guy who had been an upholsterer in Syria has opened his business upholstering people’s chairs, settees and whatnot, and regularly posts on Facebook. Local people have made very kind comments, but sincere comments on the standard of his work and recommended him.”
As part of this personalised approach a training assistant – a post funded by the European Structural Fund (ESF) which was part of the council’s Employability Team – sought to support up to 10 people to become “fully employable” through 1-1 coaching and mentoring, training and wider support with job search activities (COSLA 2019b). As well as successes already described in this section, one refugee was able to do a paid work placement via the council’s mainstream employment, enterprise and training programme (OH-MEET), which supports unemployed people into work, and was funded by the local authority, ESF and Jobcentre Plus. Funding for the ESF component of this programme, as well as for the training assistant post, came to an end on 31 December 2022.
Inevitably there are challenges that come with a limited job market on the islands, with some refugees finding that their existing skillsets were either not in demand, or – as elsewhere – that their qualifications and employment history were not recognised. As a result, some were inclined to leave Na h-Eileanan Siar and settle in mainland Scotland (or England) to search for job opportunities. This is something that was recognised by stakeholders – with refugees who decide to do this being supported to apply for jobs locally and further afield (in, for instance, Glasgow and Edinburgh) according to the career aspirations of individuals.
Securing employment and in-work progression are considered central aspects of refugee integration. The UK, Scottish and local governments are all involved in the delivery of employability work in Scotland. Under the Home Office’s resettlement programmes, local authorities are required to provide assistance with access to employment, while for the Ukraine schemes, local authorities are expected to offer support with work and benefits.
Evidence from the research survey suggests that councils typically deliver work in this area through their employability teams, alongside partnerships with a wide range of different suppliers, including Jobcentre Plus / DWP, Skills Development Scotland, Fair Start Scotland, as well as further education colleges, charities and social enterprises. Activities may involve support with CV and interview preparation, identifying training opportunities, and recruitment events with employers.
An important part of supporting refugee integration into the labour market is help with getting prior skills and qualifications recognised in Scotland. This was a common ongoing challenge raised throughout the fieldwork, with evidence that refugees found it difficult to navigate the processes involved. There is ongoing work in Scotland to support skills matching – in particular, Skills Recognition Scotland has been set up to help people to map their international skills to the Scottish qualifications framework – though it was argued that this was geared towards those with skills at intermediate level or above and more could be done to support those with other skillsets.
The fieldwork highlighted some success stories in supporting people into employment. For instance, in Na h-Eileanan Siar, the council takes a needs-led approach and works in partnership with the training officer at the DWP locally to facilitate access to training opportunities – in one case, supporting a Syrian man to become a barber by sourcing a training programme for him and helping him open his own barber shop.
Case studies highlighted the importance of joint working between ESOL and employability teams. For instance in Dundee, the council’s ESOL and employability teams developed an eight-week course to help people’s language skills and employment prospects and supported them to connect with local employers. The initial course was successful – five of eight participants quickly moved into employment and full-time education – though the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the demands of large-scale resettlement schemes have posed challenges for subsequent courses.
Housing is a key marker of integration and can shape the experiences of refugees and people seeking asylum in their destination country. However, the research literature indicates that refugees and people seeking asylum can often face particular challenges with housing in the UK, including poor-quality accommodation, insecurity, and discrimination (Brown et al., 2021). For people seeking asylum in particular, initial accommodation can be substandard, while the policy of asylum dispersal has often led to vulnerable groups moving to deprived areas with limited support options. There are also particular challenges for people making the transition from asylum accommodation once gaining refugee status, who have a ‘28 day move on period’ to find new housing (ibid).
Under the Home Office’s resettlement schemes, the funding instructions outline that local authorities must provide furnished accommodation which is ‘affordable and sustainable’ and ‘meets local authority standards’ on arrival. The cost of renting accommodation can be supported through the housing element of Universal Credit or Housing Benefit (based on Local Housing Allowance rates).
For Homes for Ukraine (Individual Sponsor Scheme), accommodation is provided by hosts, but local authorities are expected to conduct housing and safeguarding checks, administer host payments, offer move-on support, and provide homelessness assistance and rematching where appropriate (e.g. where there is a breakdown in guest-host relations). In the case of the Super Sponsor Scheme, local authorities are involved in offering properties in their areas to displaced Ukrainians; this may include social or private rental housing, hotel rooms, or accommodation from hosts via Homes for Ukraine.
As discussed in Chapter 1, local authorities also have specific responsibilities for accommodating unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and, in some cases, vulnerable families and vulnerable adults who are seeking asylum. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children may be placed in foster placements, children’s homes, semi-independent accommodation or other appropriate placements depending on their needs.
Scotland faces ongoing challenges with a shortage of affordable housing more generally, as over the past few decades house prices have risen sharply and the share of social housing has fallen. Figures from 2022 suggest that more than 180,000 households are on local authority social housing waiting lists in Scotland (Scottish Housing News 2022). Moreover, the number of homelessness cases in Scotland in September 2022 reached 28,944, the highest on record (Scottish Government 2023f).
Housing policy is devolved to Scotland, and the Scottish Government has set out an ambitious ‘Housing to 2040’ strategy with a route map for expanding the supply of affordable housing so that everyone in Scotland has ‘a safe, high-quality home that is affordable and meets their needs in the place they want to be’ (Scottish Government 2021c). The Scottish Government is aiming to meet its target to deliver 110,000 affordable homes by 2032 of which 70% will be for social rent and 10% in remote, rural and island communities (Scottish Government 2023g).
Scotland takes a distinct approach to homelessness. Under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, local authorities have a duty to provide permanent accommodation to people found to be homeless, provided they are satisfied they did not become homeless intentionally. They also have a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that someone threatened with homelessness does not become homeless, again provided they are satisfied this is not intentional. Unlike in other parts of the UK, priority need has been abolished, which means these duties apply to everyone equally, regardless of whether they are a vulnerable group. The legislation also allows for greater flexibility for refugees who were previously housed in dispersal accommodation in one local authority to be supported by local authorities elsewhere (Scottish Government 2018).
Scotland and its local authorities follow a ‘Housing Options’ approach, which aims to offer advice on the different options available to people who present with housing difficulties. Best practice and knowledge sharing on Housing Options are supported through the work of five Housing Option Hubs across Scotland, led by local authorities in partnership with others (Scottish Government 2018).
The Scottish Government and COSLA have developed the ‘Ending Destitution Together’ strategy to help those with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF), which in this context encompasses people seeking asylum and those who have had their application refused (who are not eligible for public funds and so cannot normally get local authority homelessness assistance). The strategy commits to a five-year delivery plan for ending destitution among people with NRPF (Scottish Government 2021a). The Fair Way Scotland delivery plan has been developed through a partnership between the public, charity and academic sector and seeks to ‘design-out destitution by providing accommodation pathways and support to people with NRPF who are at risk of homelessness and rough sleeping’ (Homeless Network Scotland 2021).
As discussed in Chapter 1, housing has been a particular challenge for both the Afghan and Ukraine schemes. Under the Afghan schemes, many people have stayed for long periods in bridging accommodation – temporary accommodation (largely hotels) procured by the Home Office – due to difficulties with matching them to longer-term accommodation. One of the primary challenges here has been finding properties which are suitable for the size of the family being accommodated. At the same time, the very large numbers of arrivals under the Ukraine Super Sponsor Scheme have meant that many guests have stayed in welcome accommodation – temporary accommodation for displaced Ukrainians, including hotels and cruise ships – while local authorities look for appropriate long-term housing. A key difficulty for local authorities across both schemes has been a reluctance on the part of some households to take up property offers, particularly those in more rural locations.
In response to these challenges, the UK, Scottish and local governments have made various efforts to reduce the use of temporary accommodation. The UK Government has introduced an Afghanistan housing portal to facilitate property matches, a ‘Find Your Own Accommodation’ scheme for Afghans to use themselves, and flexible funding for local authorities to support Afghans to find permanent accommodation (House of Commons Library 2023). For the Ukraine Super Sponsor Scheme, COSLA and the Scottish Government have set up a national matching service, as outlined in Chapter 1. Information from COSLA indicates that local authorities are also taking innovative steps themselves – for instance, in the case of the Afghan schemes, by adapting HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) for larger families, or by procuring multiple properties in the same street or neighbourhood and negotiating with larger families to see whether they would be willing to live across these multiple properties instead of in one household.
Nevertheless, ongoing significant challenges remain, particularly in light of Scotland’s wider shortage of affordable housing. Looking ahead, there are also concerns about further pressures being added as hosting arrangements with Ukrainian guests come to an end. The initial commitment for hosts under the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme is six months, and so – while sponsors are being encouraged to accommodate guests for longer – some Ukrainians are at risk of homelessness if they are no longer able to stay with their hosts.
The survey asked respondents how their local authority delivers housing services. This revealed a complex picture. Depending on the local authority, respondents referred to in-house support within council housing and homelessness teams, as well as close working with local housing associations and the voluntary sector. Respondents wrote of finding accommodation through social housing landlords and the private rental sector, as well as temporary accommodation in hotels.
Support tended to vary according to the various humanitarian protection schemes: one respondent explained that for Home Office resettlement schemes, housing had been identified in advance of arrival and furnished as required, while for the Homes for Ukraine scheme a team of housing officers oversaw safeguarding processes and acted as a single point of contact within the Housing Service, providing advice and signposting to external agencies for assistance in accessing wider housing options. The responses made clear that the lead-in time and managed approach for the Home Office resettlement schemes allowed for carefully planned delivery of housing support, while the Ukraine schemes were by their nature more ad hoc. Nonetheless, there was evidence of local authorities making persistent efforts to address the housing requirements of Ukrainian guests – for instance, one council worked in partnership with registered social landlords to make ten properties available in their area.
Other respondents described different provision for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children – including supported accommodation, residential homes, and blocks of flats. One respondent highlighted collaboration with external partners (such as Action for Children for older UASC). In one case, a local authority noted the use of unregulated bed and breakfast accommodation, which the respondent recognised as “not ideal” but was a consequence of the housing shortage in the area.
As discussed above, there are ongoing challenges with finding permanent accommodation for Afghans and Ukrainians, leaving large numbers of Afghans in bridging accommodation and Ukrainians in welcome accommodation Respondents were asked how many refugees were in bridging accommodation across local authorities. The responses suggested that some local authorities had very large numbers (more than 120) of refugees in bridging accommodation – including Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Scottish Borders, and South Lanarkshire. Generally, the more detailed responses and additional interviews suggested that these largely comprised of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees in hotels, which local authorities recognised was not their preferred option but which they had no control over.
The survey asked respondents about local authority successes in the areas of housing and social security. Respondents spoke of how they had helped refugees into different council and private sector tenancies and had worked with partners to offer holistic provision. Examples of successes included:
- In Aberdeen, several unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people were placed in supported accommodation and were helped to develop their own skills and independence. This led to three individuals securing their own tenancies.
- In North Ayrshire, the housing team worked as part of a refugee taskforce, incorporating partners from Education, NHS Ayrshire and Arran, DWP, the Health and Social Care Partnership, ESOL and local colleges, Employability, Finance, Legal Services, Community Learning and Development, Dental Care, Protective Services, Police Scotland, and Scottish Fire and Rescue. The taskforce had helped refugees to engage with services and address any access barriers.
- In East Lothian, around five Ukrainian families were placed into private rental sector tenancies with support in September 2022, with the council providing the deposit and rent in advance and access to essential furniture items.
Separate from the survey, COSLA highlighted an example of another notable housing success story. This involved Edinburgh council developing a successful local matching approach for Afghan families. The council allocated housing to more than 20 families from Afghanistan who were living in bridging hotels in their local authority and worked with the Ministry of Defence to use former Service Family Accommodation (SFA) as properties for larger families.
At the same time, respondents detailed extensive challenges in this area. One of the most common concerns was the lack of suitable and affordable housing for refugees, particularly for large families, as discussed earlier. Some respondents highlighted overwhelming demand for properties in their areas with long waiting lists for social housing and high private rents. One local authority, for instance, explained that they had around 4,500 applicants on the social housing list and significant homelessness pressures. Others in rural areas noted that they sometimes had properties available but struggled to find matches with refugees. As discussed earlier, local authorities are taking a number of innovative approaches to address these issues, such as adapting HMOs to larger families and procuring multiple properties in the same street for family members to live alongside each other. One respondent from Falkirk Council explained how their local authority was thinking creatively about how to purchase and bring back larger properties into the letting pool through their ‘buy-back’ and ‘empty homes’ services.
There were particular issues over the matching process under the Homes for Ukraine and Super Sponsor Schemes, as well as the risks of homelessness for where matches did not work or after the initial six month hosting period. One respondent noted that, for the Super Sponsor Scheme in particular, it was challenging to match Ukrainians with hosts or find them appropriate move-on accommodation. They expressed concern about the lack of a long-term housing strategy or plan for Ukrainians on the Super Sponsor Scheme, who in some cases faced being accommodated in contingency accommodation for a long time.
Moreover, while respondents noted a number of benefits of the hosting model, such as the potential for enhanced integration outcomes and increased accommodation options, the challenges were also substantial, with respondents noting concerns around homelessness in the mid-long term, and a general lack of clear guidance to effectively implement such a model at pace. One respondent noted that relations between hosts and guests in their area had become strained and that many hosts were now indicating that they could not support guests beyond the six-month period. They explained that this would place pressure on the council’s homelessness services. Overall, preventing homelessness and providing suitable housing were therefore understandable priorities for a number of respondents going forward.
Case study findings
In Aberdeenshire, the local authority has, over the years, experimented with different approaches to providing housing to refugees and displaced persons in the area. For the Syrian VPRS, the council acquired private sector properties on a two-year lease in the rural and “sought after” town of Kintore, ten minutes south of Inverurie and relatively well connected with the city of Aberdeen. Kintore was expressly selected to try resettling households in more affluent areas, with the view that this may support their experience of integration. While key resettlement stakeholders saw that this location had proved successful regarding integration into the existing community, the model proved not to be sustainable as local landlords – often owning just one property – would end the tenancies, for instance, to sell the property or so that their children could move in. This was said to be common, driven by increasing numbers of properties being put up for rent, since the rise of the oil and gas industry. One stakeholder spoke about how families, who then had to present as homeless, were placed in temporary accommodation for long periods, as there were very few social housing properties in central Aberdeenshire.
There was a perception that social housing properties were more desirable than private rental properties among some participants . Asked about support needs, one refugee who arrived via the Syrian VPRS referenced housing as the main challenge that he and his family had faced in Aberdeenshire. They had been placed in a private rental flat, though, he said, they would have preferred to be placed in a social housing property rather than a private rental. Explaining that this would make him feel less vulnerable to being evicted and more secure, he set out the broader significance of housing for successful integration:
“When you feel more comfortable, you will go outside doing well. You will meet the people, doing well with them, because you have your comfortable time at home, so you have the ability to go outside again full of energy, less stress, less angry.”
Learning from their previous experience, the local authority placed resettled households from Afghanistan in an area where social housing and housing association properties were available – in Peterhead, the area’s largest town in the far north of Aberdeenshire. While Peterhead was argued by some stakeholders to offer more in the way of employment opportunities, it was also described by one stakeholder as an area with “complex issues… [and] a very different feel about it”, and by another stakeholder as feeling “quite cut-off”. The main issues raised by stakeholders regarding Peterhead included there being fewer refugee families resettled in the town, which meant there was a reduced sense of community; fewer culturally appropriate amenities, such as a halal butchers or mosques; and expensive and infrequent public transport into the city of Aberdeen.
Similarly, for unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people, researchers also heard that Peterhead could feel quite isolating, with one stakeholder stating that initially there was “no sense of community, no connection to a peer group”. Social workers have however sought to address this by housing young people (all aged 17 or over) with one other young person for company and support, and by partnering with the resettlement team to link up the unaccompanied young people from Afghanistan with the wider resettled Afghan community in the town. Furthermore, they have provided transport support to make sure that the young people can access the mosque and Friday night prayers in Aberdeen City.
With just four families arriving in Aberdeenshire via the ARAP scheme, far fewer people had arrived from Afghanistan than the local authority was prepared to resettle. As described in chapter 1, this has meant that properties identified for families from Afghanistan were “kept void for almost six months”. Efforts to reclaim the costs of this from the Home Office had faltered and stalled at the time of fieldwork, meaning that further work was going to be needed to persuade the Home Office to fund these properties. In the meantime, stakeholders were concerned that the housing department would be deterred from taking the risk to earmark properties ahead of refugees arriving in the future. Instead, the council has asked that the Home Office identify individuals and families “who are willing to come”, so that they can then identify properties for them.
In the case of the Ukrainian schemes, at the time of fieldwork, Aberdeenshire had two hundred sponsors but was at the early stage of the matching process, with only four matches having been made through the Individual Sponsorship Scheme. This was thought to reflect a relative lack of desire among many refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan to move to more rural and suburban areas instead of to the major cities. However, based on the data in Chapter 3, it is clear that significantly greater numbers of Ukrainian guests have now arrived in Aberdeenshire since this interview took place.
In Dundee, stakeholders illustrated a complex picture when it comes to accommodating refugees and displaced people in the city. For those on the VPRS, one of the key challenges was gradual overcrowding over time – that is, as families get larger, they outgrow the original properties that they were housed in. As in other areas, ongoing challenges over the undersupply of housing and long waiting lists mean that many families find themselves in this situation. One stakeholder suggested that this was because refugee families tended to be relatively large and Dundee properties are generally too small. Another explained how the council had tried to spread housing for refugees across the city, which they thought allowed for better integration. But despite the council’s efforts, refugees often struggled to find suitably sized housing and found themselves in what, one resettlement coordinator described as “reasonably inappropriate housing”. Resettlement workers responded as best they could given the inadequacy in supply of housing in Scotland – regularly reviewing and checking the status of people’s position on the housing waiting list – but the fact remained that Insufficient housing stock and long waiting lists for properties often prevent refugees and the general population alike from securing suitable social housing.
The interviews with refugees also highlighted challenges with housing in Dundee. One interviewee, who was initially resettled in Sheffield alongside her husband and children, explained how when they moved to Dundee to pursue educational opportunities, they relocated into a flat that was much smaller than their former Sheffield house. Having relocated, it took six months to find and settle in the new flat – a process which they described as “difficult”. Another refugee facing problems with housing described securing accommodation as a “really complicated process”. They cited issues in understanding how the housing market works in Scotland – for example, how to rent accommodation, set up a bank account, and find suitable accommodation for rent as a person with refugee status – stating “nobody will accept a refugee to rent a house”. They suggested that a single point of contact to offer advice on housing and other matters would be helpful.
Stakeholders spoke of the huge effort undertaken by those involved in resettlement and integration work in Dundee following the arrival of large numbers of Ukrainians in the city. At the time of interviews there were roughly 60 people that had arrived to join hosts directly via the Homes for Ukraine scheme and around 40 people housed under the Super Sponsor Scheme in housing association properties. The council had been to visit and do safeguarding checks with around 110 people who had offered to host Ukrainian guests. Early reflections from stakeholders suggested that “the Homes for Ukraine matches seem to have gone very well”, while the Super Sponsor Scheme seemed “to be a slow process”, with this attributed to offers being refused:
“There seems to be a lot of refusals coming when people are matched with the hosts, people in the hotels are saying: ‘no, thank you’”.
As a result of the increased workload (including safeguarding checks, health and safety inspections and mediation between hosts and guests to avoid relationship breakdowns), the council was – at the time of fieldwork – in the process of recruiting two housing support staff members to help support the new Ukrainian arrivals. In addition, a further 250 people from Ukraine were temporarily accommodated in hotels, having arrived in the country via the Super Sponsor Scheme. These were described as ‘contingency hotels’ by Dundee City Council and are also known as ‘welcome accommodation’, as explained in Chapter 1. People living in hotels were supported by a team set up by the health and social care partnership. At the time of interviews, a meeting was due to be set up between the resettlement team and the ‘hotel team’, to ensure that there was effective communication between the two teams.
In an interview with a Ukrainian woman living in Dundee, she indicated that she had been relatively fortunate in her housing experience compared with others who had arrived later than her. She explained that she spent three weeks across two hotels when she first arrived, and after that was rehomed in a good quality housing association apartment in Dundee. She was grateful for the support she’d received from the local authority and from the Scottish Refugee Council, saying “I have only good experience with support and help”.
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people living in Dundee are often housed in a children’s residential home, where they are supported through a voluntary sector organisation, Action for Children, with a dedicated support worker directly funded by the local authority. As increased numbers of young people were due to arrive in the city as a result of the changes to the National Transfer Scheme, the council was in the process of establishing a new social worker post to support these young people. To increase their accommodation options, the council was also establishing a partnership with Carolina House Trust, a local charity that provides foster placements for separated children and young people, which they anticipated would be up and running by October 2022.
Given the much more limited profile of resettlement in the third case study area, housing in Na h-Eileanan Siar was less of a prominent issue compared with Aberdeenshire and Dundee. Housing for refugees is managed by the council’s homelessness team, which provides households with furnished accommodation and gives guidance on heating and housing costs (households can buy back the furniture after the first year). The resettlement officer provides ongoing support and advice to refugees to maintain their tenancies.
As with Aberdeenshire, Na h-Eileanan Siar faced ongoing challenges with attracting people to move to the islands. An interviewee explained that they had informed COSLA they were able to accommodate two Afghan families but, despite finding two available properties, they had struggled to make a match from the bridging hotels. At the time of fieldwork, one of the properties was being occupied by Afghan refugees through a private arrangement with a local charity, but the other property was left empty because families were refusing to take it up. Similarly, despite having an official list of 64 sponsors under the Homes for Ukraine scheme (which the council believed to be in fact higher), only three hosts had received guests at the time of fieldwork due to the high number of accommodation refusals. The interviewee reflected that this was a challenging situation, and that while some have argued that families should not be given a choice of where to move to, she understood the sensitivities involved:
“They’ve been in hotels so long that they’ve built up homes in the hotels and friendships and schooling and nursery and so then they’re not going to want to come to the other side of the country…”
Housing is a key marker of refugee integration and one of the greatest challenges for humanitarian protection programmes in Scotland. There is an ongoing affordable housing crisis in Scotland, and homelessness cases among the general population are at a record high.
Under the Home Office resettlement schemes, local authorities must provide furnished accommodation which is ‘affordable and sustainable’ and ‘meets local authority standards’ on arrival. For Homes for Ukraine (Individual Sponsor Scheme), accommodation is provided by hosts, but local authorities have a range of responsibilities in relation to safeguarding and preventing homelessness. For the Super Sponsor Scheme, local authorities are involved in offering properties in their areas to displaced Ukrainians.
The research survey suggested that delivery of housing provision involves engagement with council housing and homelessness teams, as well as local housing associations and the voluntary sector. There are a range of accommodation options, including social housing and the private rental sector. For UASC, options may include supported accommodation, residential homes, and blocks of flats for more independent living.
This provision varies according to the various humanitarian protection programmes. Under the VPRS/UKRS Home Office resettlement programmes, the long lead-in time and managed approach allows for carefully planned delivery of housing support, while the arrangements for Ukrainians have been more ad hoc.
Housing has been a particular challenge for both the Afghan and Ukraine schemes. Many people have stayed for lengthy periods in temporary accommodation. In the case of the Afghan schemes, it has proved challenging to find properties of a suitable size for families. In some local authorities – including the Aberdeenshire and Na h-Eileanan Siar case studies – councils found available properties but they were left empty as families have declined to move in, because they were reluctant to move to more rural areas. There were similar difficulties with uptake of offers of accommodation to Ukrainians, despite large numbers of sponsors offering spare rooms.
While respondents noted a number of benefits of the hosting model, such as the potential for enhanced integration outcomes and increased accommodation options, the challenges were also substantial, with respondents noting concerns around homelessness in the mid-long term, and a general lack of clear guidance to effectively implement such a model at pace. Survey respondents and case study interviews indicated that the Super Sponsor Scheme was viewed as taking a short-term view in its design, with participants concerned about that there were not enough move-on housing options available to those accommodated in temporary accommodation.
Local authorities have thought creatively about how to address housing pressures. In the research survey, one council was looking at purchasing and bringing back larger properties into the letting pool through their ‘buy-back’ and ‘empty homes’ services. In Dundee, the council was planning to increase accommodation options for UASC by establishing a partnership with a local charity that provides foster placements for separated children and young people. In the case of the Afghan schemes, researchers were told by COSLA that local authorities have tried to adapt HMOs for larger families and procured multiple properties in the same street or neighbourhood for family members to live alongside each other.
Access to welfare benefits or other financial support is a critical factor for the integration of refugees and people seeking asylum. Recent research has found that cutting welfare benefits for refugees can reduce disposable household incomes and have negative effects on crime rates and educational attainment (Anderson et al. 2019). Financial support is particularly important for new arrivals while they settle into their neighbourhoods and look for work. Given rising inflation and the cost of living crisis facing the whole of the UK, access to welfare support is expected to be particularly important for refugee integration in the coming months and years.
Welfare policy in Scotland is partly devolved and partly reserved. Through the Scotland Act 2016, welfare powers have been devolved in a number of areas, including: disability, industrial injuries and carers’ benefits; benefits for maternity, funeral and heating expenses; and discretionary housing payments (House of Commons Library 2019). The Scottish Government is currently acting on these new powers – for instance, by improving disability benefits and introducing a new Scottish Child Payment for qualifying households with all children under the age of 16 receiving £25 per week.
However, many benefits continue to be the responsibility of the UK Government, including Universal Credit, Child Benefit, Contributory Job Seeker’s Allowance, and the State Pension (Scottish Government 2017b). This means that benefits are administered in Scotland by a combination of UK, Scottish and local government: Jobcentre Plus administers Universal Credit and some other reserved benefits; Social Security Scotland, an executive agency of the Scottish Government, administers a number of devolved benefits including the Scottish Child Payment; while some other benefits, such as Discretionary Housing Payments, are administered by local authorities.
Refugees are entitled to welfare benefits in the UK, as are people on the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme. People seeking asylum, however, cannot access mainstream benefits and are instead only eligible for Section 95 accommodation and financial support where they do not have adequate accommodation or otherwise cannot meet essential living needs. This currently stands at £45 per person per week (Home Office ND).
Under the funding instructions for the Home Office’s resettlement schemes, local authorities in year 1 are required to help refugees to register for mainstream benefits and to attend appointments at Jobcentre Plus for benefit assessments. They also must provide an initial £200 cash allowance per person to help refugees during the period before the first benefit payment is made. For the Ukraine schemes, local authorities are also expected to provide support with benefits, including help with Jobcentre Plus appointments and support accessing other benefits via Social Security Scotland (Scottish Government 2023a).
The survey asked respondents about local authority successes in the areas of housing and social security. Section 3 of this chapter details how local authorities responded to the survey specifically on issues relating to housing. This section instead looks at social security, welfare benefits, and income support as an element of integration for refugees and people seeking asylum. The survey findings illustrate a number of cases where local authorities were able to develop systems for successfully boosting the incomes of people settling in Scotland. Examples of successes included:
- In Stirling, the council had hired a dedicated New Scots money, benefits and debt officer – resourced through the European Social Fund and resettlement funding – who gives budgeting advice, support for accessing the benefits system, and benefit checks for people to ensure they are accessing their entitlements.
- Renfrewshire offers a comprehensive, universal income maximisation strategy for resettled people (including refugees and UASC arrivals) involving debt management, supporting migrants to access benefits, and advice.
- In Fife, there has been close partnership working between the local authority housing team, DWP, and Social Security Scotland to support those in bridging accommodation. This has helped ensure people can access benefits within as short a timeframe as possible. The local authority has coordinated the arrangements and hotel visits.
At the same time, respondents raised a number of challenges relating to social security. One respondent from West Lothian explained that once people enter employment, local government workers can lose contact with them, which makes verifying whether people receive their social security entitlements more difficult. Another respondent reflected concerns about the impact of the cost of living crisis on their service users. There was also a call for additional funds in light of fuel poverty and the cost of living crisis.
In line with the discussion of the ‘move-on’ period in the housing section above, a Glasgow respondent wrote of the risk of destitution for recently recognised refugees after leaving Home Office asylum accommodation and before obtaining new housing. They highlighted the gap between Home Office financial support ending and Universal Credit or employment beginning. While this is currently a challenge for Glasgow in particular because most people seeking asylum in Scotland are based there, the move to full dispersal is expected to raise similar challenges in other parts of Scotland as well.
Case study findings
In Aberdeenshire, the council employs a money advice officer who provides specialist welfare and money advice to refugees, advising people on what they’re entitled to and supporting them to apply for benefits. This is a role that provides support in an ongoing way to refugees. As one stakeholder said, as individual and family circumstances change – “somebody gets an illness, somebody has a baby” – so do their entitlements:
“To me that was one of the most important posts to put in place, was somebody that was a conduit into mainstream money advice support. Because that’s the kind of thing people will always need but will find difficulty navigating because of language and understanding.”
In addition, advice and support had also been available to refugees via the Grampian Regional Equality Council, a voluntary organisation that provided a support hub function, where they were able to provide ad hoc advice and support on a number of issues, including welfare benefits. Through working closely with partners, they were able to provide specific support around key benefit areas. For instance, they worked with the council to hold a day dedicated to completing discretionary housing payment forms, at which council officers attended and interpreters were available. Post-pandemic, however, these sorts of sessions have largely been moved to an online format.
In Dundee, refugees and people seeking asylum receive day-to-day support from the Scottish Refugee Council, including help to access benefits. There is also a welfare rights team within the council that provides mainstream support and advice to Dundee residents on benefit and tax credit problems. Support workers from Scottish Refugee Council are able to link up with this team where necessary to resolve any benefit issues.
Refugees interviewed for the project in Dundee gave positive feedback about the welfare support they received. One respondent said the council has been ‘so helpful’ in providing welfare support, by listening to their circumstances, letting them know about the availability of different benefits, and advising on how they can apply.
In Na h-Eileanan Siar, the council resettlement team organises the initial sign-up to Universal Credit for new arrivals. Through the interviews, it became clear there was very effective and close working between the council and the local DWP and Jobcentre Plus to help people navigate the benefits system and access Universal Credit. Regular multi-agency meetings are held in the run-up to a household arriving and the council provides a key intermediary role between DWP and refugees to resolve issues. The small community in the local authority means that this work is inherently more bespoke and personalised than elsewhere. As one council stakeholder explained:
“because we’ve got a good relationship [with DWP] if there are any issues with families not understanding universal credit they will contact me and ask if I could talk this through with them. I can’t imagine in a city you’d be able to do that and maybe the person would just get sanctioned or not understand what they’re signing. So here they are excellent in the sense of can you support them with this and I’ll support them online and take them in here and try and talk them through things.”
Access to welfare benefits and/or financial support is a critical factor for refugee integration, particularly in the context of the current cost of living crisis. Welfare policy is partly devolved in Scotland, which means that benefits are administered by a combination of UK, Scottish and local government.
Refugees are entitled to welfare benefits, but people seeking asylum are not eligible and can only access Home Office accommodation and financial support at £45 per week where they do not have adequate accommodation or otherwise cannot meet essential living needs. There are particular risks of destitution faced by recently recognised refugees, due to the gap between Home Office financial support ending and Universal Credit or employment beginning.
Under the Home Office’s resettlement schemes, local authorities are required to help refugees to register for mainstream benefits and to attend appointments at Jobcentre Plus for benefit assessments. For the Ukraine schemes, local authorities are also expected to provide support with benefits.
There were numerous examples of local authority good practice in supporting access to welfare in both the research survey and case studies. One council in the survey explained that they had hired a dedicated money, benefits and debt officer who gives budgeting advice, support for accessing the benefits system, and benefit checks, which helps to build financial independence and reduce pressures on the wider integration team. Similarly, in Aberdeenshire the council employs a money advice officer that provides ongoing specialist welfare and money advice to refugees, advising people on what they’re entitled to and supporting them to apply for benefits.
Health and wellbeing
Physical and mental health are widely recognised as a core consideration for refugee integration (Home Office 2019). Refugees and people seeking asylum can also face particular health challenges. People who have moved to the UK for asylum reasons are more likely to report long-term health conditions than those who are UK-born (Kone et al. 2019). Refugees and people seeking asylum are particularly likely to have mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression (Blackmore et al. 2020). They may also face difficulties in accessing healthcare provision – for instance, due to language barriers and discrimination (WHO 2022).
Refugees and people seeking asylum have free access to healthcare in Scotland. Unlike in England, all those who have applied for asylum and have been refused continue to be eligible for free secondary NHS care (OHID 2023).
Under the funding instructions for the Home Office’s resettlement schemes, in year 1 local authorities are required to support the health and wellbeing of refugees in a number of ways, including through help with registration with a local GP and other medical providers; advice and, where appropriate, referral to mental health services and/or services for victims of torture; and care provision for those with special needs / community care needs. Funding is flexible for years 2-5, but should cover social care costs at a minimum. For the Ukraine schemes, local authorities are expected to also provide advice and referrals to specialist health services where appropriate (Scottish Government 2023a).
Health and social care are devolved to Scotland. Healthcare is primarily delivered through 14 Health Boards, which are responsible for providing services to their regional populations. In 2014, the Scottish Parliament passed legislation to begin the process of integrating health and social care through 31 Integration Authorities (or Health and Social Care Partnerships). This integration process is underpinned by a set of nine National Health and Wellbeing Outcomes, which are rooted in a human rights-based approach to health and social care (Scottish Government 2015b).
The survey included a question on how local authorities deliver services relating to health and wellbeing. This portion of the research will look at survey responses relating to accessing physical and mental health support.
The responses highlighted that a wide range of activities are undertaken to support the health of refugees in Scotland. In line with the duties of local authorities under the Home Office resettlement schemes, respondents wrote of supporting refugees with GP and dentist registration, as well as eye examination and dental hygiene appointments, and providing any necessary emergency treatment upon arrival. They also spoke of arrangements made for interpreters or, in one case, the identification of health professionals who spoke Ukrainian or Russian and so would be able to directly communicate with patients.
Much of this work was delivered through collaboration with Health and Social Care Partnerships, local health services, other council departments (e.g. social work) and the third sector. Respondents referred to partnerships with third sector organisations offering counselling and mental health support and online resources signposting to health and wellbeing services.
One local authority respondent explained that typically a coordinated approach was taken for those arriving under planned resettlement programmes to ensure access to health services at the point of arrival and highlight identified needs, but that the pace and scale of recent arrivals from Ukraine had placed pressures on GPs. They highlighted a close working relationship with health teams in relation to support for people in bridging and temporary hotel accommodation, including through the provision of in-reach health services such as wellbeing assessments and coordination of GP registration.
Responses referred to separate arrangements for unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people, including the arrangement of health assessments upon arrival. One respondent explained that young people can be nervous about accessing healthcare and are offered an initial appointment through their GP and children’s services, where they can then be referred for further treatment if needed.
Another respondent from a third sector organisation explained how they offered an innovative outdoor therapeutic approach to improving physical and mental health of refugees and UASC. The service is delivered in partnership with a number of different local authorities, following the Team Around the Child approach and underpinned by the GIRFEC guiding principles.
The survey question on local authority successes in the areas of health and general wellbeing generated further examples of good practice. They included:
- In Clackmannanshire, there is a dedicated health team in hotels in the local authority serving displaced Ukrainians.
- In West Lothian there is a dedicated mental health hub which has developed translation information packs for service users, as well as help for families who require ongoing support.
- In response to a different question, Renfrewshire highlighted that through funding from AMIF it had set up a West of Scotland Refugee and UASC Service, which provides support with health, wellbeing, integration and opportunity.
When asked about challenges in this area, respondents highlighted existing pressures on health services and long waiting times for GPs and dentist appointments, issues which also affect the wider population in Scotland. There were complaints too that a lack of necessary resources means that service providers are unable to deliver a consistent service, and that funds should be made available to deliver better outcomes for patients. Respondents also flagged that patients with limited English and who are unable to speak via an interpreter may struggle to communicate their symptoms or illness, potentially leading to worse health outcomes through misdiagnosis. Poverty and restrictions on access to funds were also referred to as challenges which could lead to poorer diets and limit life chances.
A number of responses referred to the high levels of trauma experienced by refugees, and concerns were raised about whether mental health services could meet their needs. One respondent noted that current policies – including the use of hotel accommodation and bans on people seeking asylum working – had a detrimental impact on health and wellbeing. Improvements in mental health services and early intervention and support – together with getting people out of hotels – were deemed important priorities going forward.
Local authorities have been making efforts to address these mental health concerns and improve the quality of support. Respondents in the survey referred to the delivery of trauma services for UASC and access to counselling and psychological support via third sector organisations. As referred to above, one third sector project offers an outdoor therapeutic approach for refugees and UASC. Beyond the survey, there are other examples of innovative practice at the local level – for instance, the Mental Health Foundation has worked with Glasgow City, North Ayrshire and North Lanarkshire Councils on a series of community-based projects aimed at capacity-building and raising the awareness of refugees’ mental health needs within health and care systems. The projects have involved the recruitment of volunteer participants to participate in gardening activities, share stories about their lives in Syria, and produce a video on the mental health experiences of refugees and people seeking asylum, as well as on the benefits of their participation in civic forums (COSLA 2019b).
Case study findings
In Aberdeenshire, researchers heard how everyone who arrives through one of the resettlement schemes is assessed for additional support needs and registered with a local GP practice. One interviewee explained that some families had arrived with children with disabilities, and so the local social work team had conducted assessments to determine entitlement for a support package for the child and their family.
Research participants spoke of the council’s multi-agency approach to refugee resettlement, which involved refugee leads within the local health and social care partnership. This gave partners clear roles and responsibilities and allowed them to take action on specific issues – for instance, in the case of GP registration, which was acknowledged to be a ‘tricky area’, the dedicated contact within the health and social care partnership could take the lead and ‘go and knock on the doors’ to ensure that any registration issues were addressed. According to the view of one stakeholder, this approach worked effectively.
In Dundee, the Humanitarian Protection Partnership has a health lead based within the local NHS who helps register new arrivals with GPs and supports with any misunderstandings and concerns. One stakeholder highlighted the benefit of having a health lead based within the NHS, because they would have greater purchase with colleagues compared with an external professional. The Scottish Refugee Council also provides support for resettled refugees to navigate the health service – for instance, by booking appointments or liaising with GPs to arrange interpreters where they face language barriers.
For UASC, NHS Tayside – which covers Dundee – has a dedicated LAC (Looked After Children) team with a focus on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and allows for a coordinated response to meeting young people’s needs. The council has also worked in partnership with The Corner, a health and wellbeing service for young people, to arrange additional provision for UASC.
There were some ongoing challenges with respect to healthcare in Dundee, much of which were outside the council’s control – including long waiting times, problems securing an interpreter, and limited mental health support. Nevertheless, it was clear from interviews that Dundee’s Humanitarian Protection Partnership were aware of these challenges and support workers did their best to advocate on behalf of refugees – for instance, by booking appointments for them, asking for interpreters, and providing information about mental health workshops.
In Na h-Eileanan Siar, the council’s resettlement team played a direct role in supporting the health of resettled refugees, by personally registering them with a GP and dental practice, arranging appointments, and working with refugees to support them to attend at the appointed time. One interviewee explained how some refugees had become more independent over time and were now arranging appointments themselves. Work was also done to support the mental health of resettled refugees – through for instance arranging volunteering opportunities to encourage refugees to build their confidence and meet new people. This work was underpinned by the council’s partnership approach, which involved multi-agency meetings with a range of partners, including health leads.
Physical and mental health is widely recognised as a core consideration for refugee integration. Under the Home Office’s resettlement schemes, local authorities are required to support the health and wellbeing of refugees in a number of ways, including through help with registration with a local GP and other medical providers and referral to mental health services and/or services for victims of torture as appropriate. For the Ukraine schemes, local authorities are expected to also provide advice and referrals to specialist health services.
The survey findings indicate that local authorities carry out a range of activities to support the health of refugees and people seeking asylum, including GP and dentist registration, help with eye examination and dental hygiene appointments, and arrangements for interpreters. Much of this work is delivered in collaboration with Health and Social Care Partnerships, local health services, other council departments (e.g. social work) and the third sector. Concerns were raised in the survey about pressures on health services and long waiting times for GPs and dentist appointments. This reflects broader challenges for health services across Scotland in meeting the needs of the general population.
Particular concerns were raised during fieldwork about the high levels of trauma experienced by refugees and whether mental health services could meet their needs. A range of activities were taking place to address this – including a project delivering an outdoor therapeutic approach for improving the physical and mental health of refugees and UASC, as well as a partnership between the Mental Health Foundation and multiple councils on a series of community-based projects aimed at raising mental health awareness. Nevertheless, the survey findings indicate that improvements in mental health services and early intervention and support are important priorities going forward.
The case studies highlighted the importance of multi-agency working to deliver on health provision for refugees and people seeking asylum. Research participants spoke of the benefit of having health leads based within NHS services, who would be able to lead on difficult areas (e.g. GP registration) and had greater purchase with colleagues compared with external professionals.
Communities, culture and social connections
A central facet of refugee integration is the forming of social connections, both in terms of ‘bonding’ (relationships between people with shared identities) and ‘bridging’ (relationships between people with different identities) (Home Office 2019). Evidence suggests that social connections can have positive impacts on other indicators of refugee integration, particularly in the case of health and language (Cheung and Phillimore 2013). Access to cultural institutions and events is also considered an important indicator for integration (Home Office 2019). However, refugees and people seeking asylum are particularly vulnerable to becoming socially isolated (Mort et al., 2022). This may be related to a number of factors, including language barriers, lack of awareness of local opportunities, and experiences of trauma.
Communities, culture and social connections are an important consideration for local authorities delivering humanitarian protection programmes. There are no specific activities dedicated to communities, culture and social connection in the Home Office’s funding instructions for its resettlement schemes, though many of the responsibilities for local authorities relate to this thematic area – e.g. making initial reception arrangements for refugees and developing a support plan to facilitate local orientation during the first year of resettlement. For the Ukraine schemes, local authorities are expected to support guests with community integration, including through community events, community champions, and interfaith groups (Scottish Government 2023a).
There are a number of relevant policies and practices in Scotland which support integration work in relation to communities, culture and social connection. As part of its Culture Strategy for Scotland, one of the Scottish Government’s aims is to ‘extend opportunities that enable people to take part in culture throughout their lives’ and to ‘recognise each community’s own local cultures in generating a distinct sense of place, identity and confidence’ (Scottish Government 2022c). This includes funding for communities to develop cultural projects through a new Creative Communities programme, including activities with refugees and people seeking asylum (Inspiring Scotland 2022).
At the local level, a range of different types of organisations – including councils, charities, neighbourhood groups, refugee-led groups, youth groups, and faith-based groups – are involved in delivering social and cultural activities, as well as many other projects supporting refugee integration. A mapping exercise in 2020 by the Scottish Refugee Council of 163 different organisations providing community support illustrates the range of refugee integration projects on offer (Scottish Refugee Council 2020). Refugee Festival Scotland – which is coordinated each year by the Scottish Refugee Council – also provides a focal point for events across Scotland to mark the run-up to World Refugee Day, which takes place on 20 June (Scottish Government 2018).
The survey results illustrate the work of local authorities across Scotland in supporting refugees and people seeking asylum to feel able to integrate socially and culturally into their new communities. This work involves a range of activities and resources, including befriender programmes, information packs, and cultural celebrations. There was also an emphasis on sports and leisure activities, including through the provision of bicycles and free access to sports facilities. A focus was placed in one response on supporting refugees to practise their cultural and religious beliefs – including by ensuring access to places of worship – together with celebrating Burns Night and St Andrew’s Day, as well as other cultures from around the world. Another response highlighted the importance of strong links with internal partners, the third sector and community organisations for this work, given they may often be better suited to organising these types of events and activities.
The survey responses highlighted a number of examples of good practice in the area of community, culture and social connection. They include:
- In East Lothian, all Ukrainian guests are provided with a free 6-month leisure pass and a 12-month bus pass to support access to services and employment and help with integration.
- In East Renfrewshire, the council organised a visit to Benmore Gardens, a nature and botanical preserve, and are looking for other options for community activities and events for refugee families and guests. The purpose of the visits is to create an informal environment to help bring people together and enable them to become more accustomed to Scottish culture.
- In Moray, the council ran a summer activities programme over the school holiday period to help build confidence and learn English. The respondent noted that the programme had been considered “a great success with families meeting, exchanging numbers and making wider connections”.
Where challenges were cited, one respondent reflected on the limits of important cultural and religious centres being located in Scotland’s central belt – for instance, forcing refugees to travel from Perth to Glasgow. Some respondents highlighted the importance of properly resourcing community and third sector organisations so they can meet increasing demand, given the reliance on these groups to facilitate integration activities and social events.
Case study findings
As discussed earlier in Chapter 3, Aberdeenshire’s work on refugee resettlement is grounded in a Community Learning and Development (CLD) approach, aimed at strengthening local community capacity. One of Aberdeenshire’s flagship pieces of work was the refugee-led Al-Amal (Hope) project, which began in 2016 to ‘act as a voice and support mechanism for New Scots’ families’. The project sought to boost community participation, share and communicate stories of resettlement, and advocate for refugees. It was steered by a committee of refugees and involved a range of activities, including employment cafes, buddying, and cultural trips.
Later, in 2019, a new group called Friends of Al-Amal was constituted in Aberdeenshire, led by volunteers from refugee and receiving communities and working in partnership with Al-Amal and the local council. The idea behind the group, as explained to researchers during the fieldwork, was to support refugees with ideas for projects or activities to put them into practice, by helping to secure funding, facilitate meetings, and work on a development plan.
Friends of Al-Amal were involved in various projects and activities at the time of fieldwork, including organising trips, running a women’s group and poetry nights, and coordinating one-to-one additional English language support with volunteers. In one case, they liaised with a local church to provide a space for refugees to get involved in community gardening initiatives. Interviewees spoke of how one man had been growing plants from seeds native to Syria and how women with farming backgrounds had the opportunity to attend the gardens and “put their hands in the earth”. The community garden project was therefore seen to have a range of benefits – not only for general wellbeing but also for skills and educational development.
Interviewees felt that the original Al-Amal project was highly successful in building relationships and empowering refugees to settle in Aberdeenshire. They reflected that, after the first couple of years of the project, many of the early issues facing refugees had been resolved and they had become more integrated into the community, which meant that the focus of Al-Amal shifted to becoming more socially focused. In recent years, the project has become less active, and Friends of Al-Amal now plays a larger role. Again, interviewees were highly supportive of the work of Friends of Al-Amal, which played a key role in providing support in Aberdeenshire given the local authority’s relatively small voluntary sector. In particular, it was noted that the model underpinning the work – based on a different power relationship between refugees and receiving communities, because everyone interacted with each other as volunteers – was an exciting and innovative approach to refugee integration and empowerment.
Further integration work in Aberdeenshire was being run by the Grampian Regional Equality Council (GREC), a charity based in Aberdeen which work across the North East of Scotland. The charity had secured funding from AMIF for two projects on women’s empowerment and digital inclusion, the second of which was based in Aberdeenshire.
The project on digital inclusion was a partnership between Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City councils and involved identifying the potential for digital champions in the community, as well as supporting people with hardware, connectivity, and other issues. At the time of fieldwork, the digital inclusion project was on track to be completed and had been successful at getting devices to the community and supporting people with maintaining online accounts and filling in online forms. However, key challenges remained over digital skills, and there were concerns that language barriers were still a root cause inhibiting digital inclusion.
Specific work was also carried out in Aberdeenshire to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. In recognition of the support that young people need to build trust and settle in their new home, the council collects the young people they are responsible for directly from temporary accommodation located in Kent. This demonstrates the local authority’s commitment to supporting young people to transition to Aberdeenshire and gives staff an opportunity to get to know them and provide a warm welcome. This approach has been shared via COSLA’s UASC working group and other local authorities now take a similar approach.
Once unaccompanied young people began arriving in Aberdeenshire, the council made various efforts to support their social integration. One interviewee explained how they pulled together a summer programme for young people, involving a combination of twice-weekly ESOL classes, weekly trips, and other activities (e.g. mural painting at one of the family resource centres). They also gave an example of how a council worker had supported some of the young people to get involved in the local cricket club, and around four now took part in cricket training on a weekly basis (with two playing regularly in the local team). While this had happened organically, the interviewee highlighted it as a powerful example of how unaccompanied young people had built social connections with local residents through their involvement in the cricket club.
In Dundee, the Scottish Refugee Council play an important role in supporting initial orientation for resettled refugees, by taking them around the city with local volunteers and pointing out shops, libraries, and other places to go. An interviewee explained that this encouraged volunteers who know about the city to help new arrivals. The Scottish Refugee Council also organises a WhatsApp group and a monthly newsletter to share information about local activities. These are translated into Arabic, and at the time of fieldwork there were plans to translate them into Ukrainian as well.
At the time of fieldwork, the council was also in the process of recruiting a community development worker. The post had been filled previously and had been involved in allotment activities, a cycle scheme, as well as work with the local football team, but it had been hard to sustain this work during the Covid-19 lockdown. The council hoped that this new recruit would bring some imaginative ideas to the role and allow for greater community development post-Covid.
As noted earlier in this chapter, Dundee’s ESOL provision is closely linked with its community work. The ESOL team works with Dundee’s International Women’s Centre, where women-only language provision is offered, blending English classes with opportunities to get involved with other activities such as a painting class, sewing group, or parenting group. The ESOL team also works closely with the community empowerment team – adult learning sits within the council’s community learning and development service – and some ESOL provision is based directly in community centres. This allows the tutors to take students to community cafes and encourage them to participate in volunteering – for instance, at the community centre food banks. One ESOL worker had set up a young women’s group for 16-25 year olds, which helped participants to learn English while also acting as a community hub to build friendships and take part in activities (e.g. going for walks and doing Zumba). This was considered to have worked well at both supporting English language learning and building confidence among participants.
In Na h-Eileanan Siar, the council takes an active role in supporting resettled refugees to participate in activities which reflect their personal interests – for instance, sewing, knitting or fishing. The resettlement team has taken mothers to mother and toddler groups, in order to encourage them to meet other people and tackle the risk of social isolation. As with other aspects of the resettlement team’s work, this reflects the council’s hands-on and personalised approach to refugee integration, aimed at directly meeting the specific needs and interests of resettled refugees who arrive on the islands.
Another key aspect of the council’s work involves the recruitment of volunteers, who have been critical in supporting refugee wellbeing. The council issued a call-out for volunteers, conducted PVG (Protecting Vulnerable Groups) checks, and issued timetables for when to meet with families. Volunteers have supported resettled refugees with ESOL classes (including babysitting while adults were being taught), accompanied them while shopping and to appointments, and helped with practising English conversations, alongside other befriending and orienteering activities. Much of this work blends formal activities with informal social connections, given the close-knit community in Stornoway. As one volunteer explained:
“And one of my friends and I, informally, used to work with two women who were quite friendly with each other, and we would take them around the shops, we would go for a coffee. We did a day trip to Inverness on the ferry with them, which went down very well. So, it has been a mixture of befriending, helping with the language, taking them shopping – and they’re very, very friendly, and invited us into their homes for coffee and meals and things like that.”
Another interviewee agreed that the volunteer approach had been really valuable for refugees, helping them to meet other members of the community, familiarise themselves with the local area, and build friendships over time.
Communities, culture and social connections are an important consideration for local authorities delivering humanitarian protection programmes. A key aspect of refugee integration is the forming of social connections, both in terms of ‘bonding’ (relationships between people with shared identities) and ‘bridging’ (relationships between people with different identities).
A number of the responsibilities of local authorities under the Home Office resettlement schemes relate to communities, culture and social connections, including making initial reception arrangements for refugees and developing a support plan to facilitate local orientation for their initial 12 months. For the Ukraine schemes, local authorities are expected to support guests with community integration, including through community events, community champions, and interfaith groups.
The survey findings detailed a variety of work delivered by local authorities to support this thematic area, including arranging summer activities programmes, organising cultural celebrations and trips, and facilitating leisure and sport activities (e.g. through free leisure passes and access to sport facilities). The importance of partnerships with the third sector and community organisations was emphasised in the responses.
The case studies also highlighted examples of good practice. Aberdeenshire’s refugee-led Al-Amal project, which began in 2016 to ‘act as a voice and support mechanism for New Scots’ families’, was seen as an initial success. The project was steered by a committee of refugees and involved activities such as employment cafes, buddying, and cultural trips. More recently, a new group called Friends of Al-Amal has been constituted, led by volunteers from refugee and receiving communities. This model of working – where receiving and refugee communities engaged with each other as volunteers, shifting power relationships – was considered an innovative approach to refugee integration and empowerment.
Other examples of good practice included Dundee’s approach to connecting ESOL and community development and Na h-Eileanan Siar’s engagement of volunteers to help resettled refugees – for instance, one ESOL worker in Dundee had set up a young women’s group for 16-25 year olds to support language learning and build friendships, while Na h-Eileanan Siar took steps to blend childminding and conversational language support with befriending and orienteering activities.
The research found numerous examples of successful community-led interventions working with refugees to support social connections. But it was also recognised that in order to effectively meet local demand for events and activities, more could be done to resource the community and third sector organisations supporting social integration on the ground.
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