The Latin American community is one of the fastest growing – yet one of the most invisible – migrant communities in London. It has increased nearly four-fold between 2001 and 2011, with many families arriving in the UK through onward migration via Spain, a phenomenon that has increased since the global economic recession . By 2013, there were a quarter of a million Latin Americans living in the UK, 145,000 of whom were in London, making it larger than the UK Somali and Chinese communities (McIlwaine & Bunge 2016). The majority live in South London (Lambeth and Southwark) where IRMO is based.
In spite of the community’s high rates of pre COVID-19 employment (85%), many experience underemployment and disadvantage in the labour market. Reports by Queen Mary University (2011, 2016) revealed that the majority work in low paid, precarious jobs, mostly in the cleaning or catering sectors, and experience in-work poverty and isolation linked to low wages, exploitative workloads, and fragmented working hours. These conditions leave people vulnerable to exploitation: studies found that 45% endured workplace abuse and that 1 in 5 experienced wage theft .
With low incomes despite working multiple jobs, most struggle to break out of in-work poverty and many end up building up debt. In addition, lack of English hinders access to services, with a large number not claiming the social security they are entitled to. As a result, a large proportion of our service users live in poor housing conditions, mainly in the private rental sector (75%) without letting contracts evidencing their tenancy rights (over 50%). A large proportion live in overcrowded conditions and for almost one in three ‘home’ is limited to a rented bedroom as there is no communal space in the property. In addition, a significant proportion are homeless or living in insecure accommodation (16.8%), one in four have been turned away by landlords who refuse to rent to families, and 12.7% have experienced abuse in their housing .
Latin American Children
Official data on Latin American children in the UK is currently not available. However, IRMO comes into contact with hundreds of families each year who are facing difficulties accessing services and formal education for their children, which hinders children’s integration to society, perpetuating and exacerbating the inequalities affecting the community.
Limited places available in local schools, the long processing time for applications and a lack of knowledge among parents regarding how the system works mean that children can be out of school for several months. Schools can also be reluctant to take on children who do not have a good command of English due to the limited resources available for ESOL students. A report from 2016 shows that IRMO supported 24 school age children seeking school places in Lambeth in the previous year. Combined, these children waited 444 weeks and an average of 18.5 weeks for a school place, which greatly exceeds the maximum 21 school days allowed. This is almost half the average school year of 39 weeks and over half of the children (54%) missed more than a term of school while waiting for a place.