Lack of identity documentation on arrival to UK is a common problem for many Roma people

With the UK considering a departure from the European Union come October, amendments to a number of EU rights are predicted to have damaging impacts on many EU citizens currently settled in the UK.

Thursday, 30th May 2019, 9:51 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th June 2019, 2:12 pm
Firth Park Academy.

The Home Office’s new EU settlement status scheme has been introduced as a means to efficiently document the residency status of 3.7 million UK-based EU citizens – 225,000 estimated to be Romani, according to European Commission figures.

A lack of identity documentation upon arrival to the UK is a common problem for many Roma people. The mandatory residency application, along with a loss of select EU rights, has initiated growing angst for vulnerable European minority groups like the Roma community – as many individuals are concerned over failing to meet all the settlement scheme requirements.

Sheffield Council’s Roma integration work has helped shape the EU’s Framework for National Roma Integration Strategy – as the city distinctly shares high Roma migrant demographics with other cities like Bristol, Glasgow and Manchester. But many argue that Theresa May’s disregard for future EU rights to housing, employment and social security will significantly affect Romani social progression.

The Public Accounts Committee has highlighted the Home Office’s ‘systemic failure’ in keeping accurate UK residency records. Windrush-like consequences could fall on the Romani people as a large percentage lack identity documentation like passports, bank statements and employment paperwork. Language barriers, digital illiteracy and communication breakdowns with HMRC further hinder them from successfully passing the settlement status application – before the Dec 2020 deadline.

Educational rights for the children of EU migrant workers currently remain untouched. But tackling the deep history of educational discrimination that Romani people face should be enforced within classrooms.

Shiregreen’s Firth Park Academy has taken an active role in extending integration relationships between schools and Roma households - as Romani children make up 10 per cent of pupils. The school even designates a pick-up service to areas like Page Hall on parents’ evenings to encourage educational involvement.

Despite education funding cuts for minority/Traveller communities, concentrating on pursuing educational attainment will eliminate high levels of persistent absence (18.1 per cent - recorded by the Department of Education in 2018) and help prepare the next Roma generation for employment in the UK.

A history of employment discrimination has caused Roma workers to face high labour-market disadvantages, compared to EU migrants from A8 countries. Labelled as non-economically active, Romani people tend to be self-employed or in temporary workplaces. These jobs often require lower skill-sets, are illegally waged, and lack payment records – lessening chances of collating residency documentation. A shared misunderstanding of market regulations and employment rights is rife in the Roma community. Due to low communication levels between Roma workers and the DWP, issues of social isolation and career progression are further aggravated.

A history of mass-migration around European countries has seen endless cases of anti-Roma rhetoric and victimisation from the residents of Romani host countries. High Roma chain-migration areas like Page Hall and Fir Vale, unfortunately, are not immune to social marginalisation. Agitation between non-Roma and Roma communities is evident – with a 42 per cent hate-crime rise recorded by the National Police Chiefs’ Council in 2016.

Axing EU migrant funds will further escalate issues of social deprivation, making integration work harder for local authorities.

Sheffield Council is tackling social disadvantages through mapping poverty statistics on the IMD. As of 2018, 80 per cent of Roma live below the ‘at risk of poverty’ threshold; 33 per cent without running water, 10 per cent without electricity. Widespread societal deprivation that Romani people face is predicted to heighten as Brexit outcomes unfold.

The mainstream media narrative of litter-strewn streets and ghettoisation in Roma-settled areas has caused xenophobic backlash. From accusatory news-articles blaming Romani communities for fly-tipping to politicians sharing derogatory opinions on national radio – efforts to eliminate Roma identity shame diminish.

Rebecca Hilsenrath (CEO of Equality and Human Rights Commission) told The Guardian: “50 per cent of people living in Britain openly express unfavourable views of Roma people,’ highlighting a need to tackle problems of anti-social behaviour, environmental issues, and housing control.

Sheffield’s integration methods stand as shining examples of community assimilation. Sheffield Council,along with neighbouring city councils, is currently working with ONS for theinclusion of a separate Romani ethnic category on the 2021 UK census – clear social inclusion steps for anethnic group who have resided in the UK for decades.

From Sheffield City’s recent International Roma Day celebrations to the newly-named Slovakian amphitheatre entitled ‘Sheffield Square,’ – Sheffield has been instrumental in helping to empower the Roma voice withinBritain’s multi-cultural society.

But future Brexit consequences, from the residency registration to the abolishment of select EU rights, couldundo years of integration work in cities like Sheffield, and beyond.