Sticker on lamp post reading 'you are important'

Recommendations for those working to support people seeking sanctuary in the UK

Whatever our role – official, volunteer, or neighbour, being kind and showing compassion can have an enormous positive impact. Many participants shared positive and negative experiences of trying to access needed support. Feeling that people were understanding and empathetic could be hugely important in mental well-being and feeling that they are working toward that good life we all want. This is a vital reminder to all of us across the public sector (the NHS, schools, homelessness and immigration services, etc.) who encounter people who have come to the UK in search of a good life. Many described feeling stuck in a dehumanising system. It is important to remember our own humanity and recognise that of those we seek to support. In addition, we have highlighted six key areas of recommendation that can be applied by people looking to offer support:

1. A good life is about more than just meeting your basic needs.

Creating opportunities to have purpose and to identify and achieve future ambitions was fundamental to so many respondents’ ideas about a good life, as was having community and being with friends and family. It is important for those working alongside people who have moved here from another country, particularly those without the legal right to work, to help foster opportunities to thrive. This likely means working closely with people to really understand their dreams and ambitions.

2. But, until people’s basic needs are met, they may struggle to connect with their broader goals and ambitions.

However, the need to move beyond people’s basic needs comes with the caveat that, when these are not being met, the idea of leading a good life, of having hopes and ambitions, can feel far away. Identifying people’s basic needs and where there are gaps in their access to food, safe accommodation, security, healthcare, etc., can be a fundamental first step, but, on its own, these aspects are not enough to achieve a good life.

3. Mental health and support to recover from past trauma are vital for those who have come through tough times.

Throughout conversations, it was clear that the overwhelming majority of respondents had struggled with mental ill health during their arduous journeys to make a home for themselves in the UK. However, with the significant lack of freely available mental health care in the UK, an issue made even more difficult for those without or with limited recourse to public funds, getting support can be incredibly challenging. Any steps to empower individuals to take the steps they need to access much-needed support may be particularly impactful.

4. Help to foster opportunities to develop and support local communities that emphasise choice and control.

For people who may have been forcibly displaced or have chosen to leave their home country for a range of reasons, being able to contribute positively to their local community can be a crucial component in achieving a good life. Where it is not possible for people to obtain paid employment, social and voluntary opportunities that are likely to enable the development of positive, supportive relationships may be crucial. Where social relationships came up in discussions, they often developed informally. Giving people the space and power to develop these types of opportunities, with maximum choice and control, may be particularly beneficial.

5. Work to empower people who may experience little choice and control in their lives.

The inability to make decisions about your life and future can be incredibly disempowering. Opportunities for people to take back power in their lives may be hugely important in people’s ability to achieve a good life. This could range from simple day-to-day decisions, such as what food they are eating, to supporting people to have the financial freedom to pursue hobbies, travel, see friends, and more. Ultimately, listening to people and hearing how they may feel trapped by systems and national borders may help to identify ways to better empower them.

6. Continue speaking with people who have moved to the UK from other countries, particularly those facing challenges in securing residency.

This Wisdoms exercise demonstrated just how difficult it can be for those who are dealing with incredible adversity to identify their hopes and dreams. As one respondent explained, this can mean that ambitions and conceptions of a good life can shift and grow over time. It is vital that any services, organisations, or government agencies working to improve the lives of these individuals continue to create opportunities for people to speak about their experiences, hopes, and ambitions.

The following pages capture the 57 conversations that took place, which we have divided into six key themes.