Latin Americans in the UK

Recognition in Lambeth
“They say that ESOL classes are funded for those who need it, but if I want to go to classes I have to pay the full fee because I am not on benefits. I work as a cleaner, I have two jobs, so I start before business hours and then I have another four hours in the evening. I earn less than the London Living Wage, but I am not on Job Seekers Allowance, Disability or Income Support, so they say I need to pay the full ESOL fee. I can’t afford ESOL classes.”
Manuel (46), Peruvian

The Latin American community is one of London’s fastest growing groups, with 113,500 in 2008 and increasing numbers coming from Spain, Portugal and Italy fleeing the economic crisis. Latin Americans started settling into the UK from the late 1960s and have continued to migrate in increasing numbers ever since. The largest national groups are Brazilians, Colombians, Ecuadorians and Peruvians.

The cultural and economic contribution of Latin Americans to the UK is reflected in the wide offer of Latin American restaurants, festivals, cultural events, media and commercial initiatives. However, and in spite of being a highly qualified group with high rates of employment (85%), many live in poverty and suffer from exclusion and exploitation.

Many Latin Americans are forced to take jobs in the cleaning and catering industries in order to survive. These sectors lack regulations and are characterised by extremely poor working conditions: many are employed casually or on a temporary basis, with no entitlement to annual leave or sick pay, and with unsocial working hours very early in the morning and late in the evening.

These working conditions and recent regulations make it extremely difficult for Latin Americans to access ESOL provision in order to access better jobs and move up the economic ladder. Stuck in these areas of work, Latin Americans experience downward mobility, disadvantage, and exploitation in the labour market, with 40% reporting workplace abuse, 11% being paid less than the National Minimum Wage, and 70% perceiving discrimination as a major barrier in the UK.

In spite of low incomes, only 1 in 5 Latin Americans claim some form of welfare benefit, which is much lower than the London average. This situation translates into poor living conditions and limited access to services: at least one third are sharing their homes/rooms with other families, 1 in 5 are not registered with a GP, and only 4 out of 10 have been to a dentist in the UK.

To read more about Latin Americans, please visit our Publications and Press Articles sections.

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