"We don't rely on benefits": Challenging mainstream narratives towards Roma migrants in the UK

Philip Martin, Lisa Scullion, Philip Brown

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


One of the prevailing and persistent political and public discourses surrounding immigration suggests that easy access to welfare benefits and public services is a major reason why the UK is a destination of choice for migrants (Page 2009; Anderson 2013). The corollary of this narrative depicts migrants as a ‘drain’ on public resources, taking out far more than they contribute, and competing with ‘native British’ citizens (Spencer, 2012). While counter narratives are evident, they primarily rely on statistical data to highlight a financial net benefit from migration (Dustmann, Frattini, and Halls, 2009), critique the view that the welfare system is unduly generous (Juravle, Weber et. al. 2013), or indict the dominant narrative as xenophobic populism, myth and misinformation (Finney and Simpson, 2009). However, neither side of the debate gives much prominence to the voices of migrants in relation to their motivations for coming to the UK and their interactions with the benefit system. Roma communities have formed a distinct element within the migration of EU citizens to the UK over the past decade. However, there are subtle differences in the way the discourse has been framed towards them. While EU migrants as whole (and individual groups such as Polish nationals) have been accused of forcing down wages, ‘poaching’ jobs or crowding out neighbourhood housing and schools (Pompova, 2015), the discourse has been presented in a particularly racialized way for migrants of Roma heritage, and largely centred on their perceived exploitation of the welfare system (Richardson, 2014) and not their competition for jobs. Media representations have drawn on historic stereotypes and prejudices, implying an inherent culture of dishonesty and idleness exists among this community (Tremlett, 2012). Drawing on qualitative evidence from 19 focus groups with Roma migrants in five locations across the UK, this article highlights the variety of motivations of Roma migrating to the UK, suggesting that, far from being attracted by the UK welfare system, the opportunity to work and create a better future for their families are the primary motivating factors. Indeed, access to benefits proved markedly difficult for Roma, in part because of poor literacy, but also because of the increasingly restrictive criteria that seeks to exclude migrants from accessing the UK welfare system. These factors disadvantaged Roma in relation to both in and out of work benefits, with implications for the social inclusion of this already marginalised community.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Policy Review 29
Subtitle of host publicationAnalysis and Debate in Social Policy, 2017
EditorsJohn Hudson, Catherine Needham, Elke Heins
PublisherPolicy Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781447336228
ISBN (Print)9781447336211, 9781447337317
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


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