What have we learnt so far?
The Fresh Start teams have already learnt so much from our partnerships with local NGOs and municipalities. This not to say that there have been no challenges and obstacles but we intend to learn from them for the future. Many of these obstacles have been bureaucratic, as the rules for migrants vary considerably from country to country and even from municipality to municipality. In the Netherlands and Belgium, they require intensive language and integration courses before any employment is allowed. As the Netherlands Fresh Start team found, “Some municipalities are easier to work with than other” and more open to initiatives.And of course there is always the human dimension – some benefits’ advisers are more sympathetic and supportive than others. This may depend on their work culture or their own personal values and perspectives.
TheBelgium Fresh Start team found that, “Municipalities rather like a success rate of about 100% …but that of course is difficult to guarantee and not very realistic.” In other words, some municipalities want guarantees that all participants succeed in setting up a business which will enable them to get off social benefits by the end of their course and, as any entrepreneur will tell you, this can never be guaranteed as there are so many outside factors involved. Any business leader will also tell you that it takes time and dedication to set up a successful business- it is not (or very rarely) something that can be accomplished overnight.
In the UK, the regulations are set by national government, not municipalities but this means that they can being flexible. All countries’ teams have found that migrants on social benefits are expected to be available for work or to look for jobs full time. We have addressed this by offering courses during the evenings or at weekends. Childcare needs are also an issue for many applicants so we will need to find creative ways to address this.
In all three countries we discovered that there is a real lack of co-ordination and synergy between the different migrant services and organisations. This lack of synergy means that there are opportunities missed to develop an overall strategy of support. This is something we hope to address during the project and to bring together such service providers to enable them to learn from each other and develop a more holistic approach. The Belgium’s team is building this into their programme by mapping these organisations and enabling migrants to develop their own purpose-built training.