What social mobility means to me – a child of immigrants

20th August, 2018 9:49 am

Most of my Sundays are spent knocking on doors in my local community in Enfield, home to some of the most deprived people in the country.

Some doors are opened by white working class families, who have lived in the area all their lives. They tell me they bleed Labour and desperately want the Tories out. For them a Tory government means a long wait for a hospital appointment, and a lack of police on our streets.

I also come across immigrant families who have the same worries and more. Families where young children answer the door apprehensively, ready and eager to translate for their relatives. Families that remind me so much of my own.

Many of these families are Kurdish, Turkish and Turkish Cypriot. Friendly, decent and –more often than not – Labour. I am met with kind faces and have been invited in for a cup of çay and slice of börek more than once.

All of the families we meet have much in common. Parents work all hours, yet struggle to pay their bills; grandmothers wait weeks for a doctor’s appointment. Yet the immigrant families I meet face additional challenges – sometimes mums need extra help filling in forms; sometimes uncles face discrimination at work because of their accent.

These families work hard, contribute to society and try as hard as they can to provide their children with a future that’s safe and secure. They have often fled from war and persecution, travelling across oceans and borders to seek out a better life. A life they hope will be filled with both hard work and offers opportunity.

But often the children of immigrants must grow up swiftly. They need to be carers and translators, provided with responsibility that goes beyond their grasp and age. The duties of an immigrant child can be overwhelming – navigating the adult world at the age of six or seven because there are linguistic barriers in place. This is not the fault of their families, who are trying as hard as they can to provide what we as a party believe everyone deserves.

We need to give them the support they need. It’s time for society, communities and our party to start talking about children of immigrants, giving them the support they deserve and ensuring they aren’t left behind.

This isn’t about dramatic change, but about providing people with the tools they need to flourish. Take making friends: the pressure of the playground is difficult enough, but with English as a second language, the clashing of cultures and the new surroundings these young people find themselves in, this pressure can become overwhelming.

When my mum first moved from Cyprus to Enfield she made a friend, Kelly, who she played with every day at school. Then one day her friend stopped talking to her. Why? What had my mum done to upset her? When my mum finally plucked up the courage to ask, Kelly told her she wasn’t allowed to play with ‘foreigners’ anymore.

Children are notoriously good at absorbing things from their environment. My mum’s experience of racism when she was only eight years old has never left her and I can only hope Kelly never grew up to be as bigoted as her family. What can we do? If Labour are truly the government in waiting we need to ensure there will be more support for children who first arrive to the UK. Extra English lessons, ensuring that the school communities support a smooth transition and allow children to adapt to a new way of life.

Educational attainment is hugely valued by migrant families. When you have left your home in search of a better life you come to know only too well a feeling of insecurity – the knowledge that you could have to leave with just the clothes on your back. A good education is one of the few things that stays with you forever.

We know that the better the relationship between schools and parents, the easier it is for children to reach their potential. Yet, schools often struggle to engage migrant parents. The numerous pressures of home life and lack of English skills often mean that parents struggle to engage with their child’s education, even though they might agree it is vitally important.

If Labour were to be in power tomorrow, I believe we should implement a scheme in which schools provide a family liaison officer, who are mindful of the challenges of migrant families. This will provide a stronger link between home and school – a two way process to help remove barriers to attainment. As a member of Labour’s National Policy Forum I intend to raise this at our next meeting; I’m sure Angela Rayner will agree that more needs to be done in this area.

Labour councils across the country are already doing a fantastic job in ensuring immigrant families are welcomed in society and communities. However, it is impossible to expect them to provide the support these families need with Tory austerity making them fight for every pound, and forcing cuts to every service. We know that opportunistic politicians like Boris Johnson will stop at no lengths to demonise and criminalise communities, and I fear that a generation of immigrant children will be left behind.

It is up to us to put this at the top of our agenda and give every child the opportunity to fulfil their dreams.

Eda Cazimoglu is a Labour and trade union activist. She is standing for Labour’s NEC. 

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