Can social investment support Britain’s approach to refugees?

More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015. Shocking stories of the welfare of those living in camps are becoming a regular occurance. Big Society Capital's Simon Rowell considers whether there is a role for social investment to play in providing long-term support and integration for these people, many of whom have been forced to flee violence and instability. 

Last week in the House of Commons, prime minister David Cameron responded to public and political pressure to commit the British government to take in more unaccompanied Syrian refugee children from Europe. This was welcome news for many hoping for the UK to do more to support the waves of most vulnerable across Europe. It also sits on top of government commitment last September to rehome 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 direct from UN camps.

However, serious questions remain for how Britain will achieve these targets, as well as the broader group of almost 170,000 refugees and asylum seekers. How will local authorities cope with this increased need? Where will they get the skills and support to address this most complex of personal challenges? How can charities and social enterprises with the expertise in working with this vulnerable group best operate in a challenging fiscal environment? How can Britain move from responding to an immediate crisis to taking a long-term approach to integrating refugees and asylum seekers into British life?

This challenge has bedevilled policy-makers across the world and continues to do so. Partly because refugees and asylum seekers face multiple complex challenges when coming to the UK, particularly mental well-being, housing and employment. Whilst social investment is not the answer, it may have the potential to help finance additional interventions.

Why? It may provide an additional source of capital in a funding-constrained environment. It may provide the scope to address multiple complex needs and help promote coordinated approaches between agencies and organisations. Its long time horizon may provide the space to think strategically and focus on challenges of integration beyond an initial crisis response. It could also be used as a tool to empower and engage communities to be part of the solution.

In a new paper, Investing in Integration – How can social investment be used to promote integration of refugees and asylum seekers?, I’ve explored if and how social investment could play a role in addressing the needs of refugees and asylum seekers, and to flush out some bigger ideas.

What is encouraging from my investigation is that there are already emerging examples of innovative financing approaches used to address challenges of vulnerable migrants, some currently being deployed in the social investment market in the UK, but also by our international colleagues.

For instance, in Canada the Immigrant Access Fund that guarantees loans to migrants to seek accreditation for higher qualifications they would have held in their home country to seek higher wages and better contribute to their new country. In Belgium, a social impact bond is matching retirees with 18-30 year old migrants to provide them with informal connections to better find employment prospects. In the UK, Commonweal Housing has used social investment to purchase housing for migrants with insecure immigration status and no recourse to public funds.

I suspect this is just scratching the surface. To unearth the range of opportunities to help, a concerted and collaborative effort is needed from social investors, charities, social enterprises and government. A coordinated government strategy and an integration finance lab would be important ways to help promote investment in integration and make Britain’s commitment to refugees and asylum seekers work for the long-term.


Header image: Solidarity with refugee march in London, September 2015

Photo credit: Julian Stallabrass