In our last blog post for the Migration Policy Unit we shared our new way of working as we endeavour to be inclusive and transparent in our policymaking process. In this blog we set out what our first and flagship project is for the policy unit, as well as how we came to the decision to work on this particular issue.

This hasn’t been easy. Far from it. How do you decide which policy problem to focus our efforts on when there are so many? Faced with a plethora of problems in the asylum and immigration system, it can feel nigh on impossible to narrow it down to one issue.

But with a lot of help from our advisory group, and with the aid of some guiding principles, we’ve made the decision to take forward a project on asylum accommodation. More on why we decided on that in a second, but first, how did we come to this decision?

Listening to sector voices

First of all, we spoke with almost 30 organisations that responded to our open call for expressions of interest in working together on policy research. In those calls we asked organisations a series of questions to understand what problems they and the people they work with were facing, what change they’d like to see, what work was already taking place to address the problem, and how they thought IPPR could help achieve their objectives. We also asked about the resources that were available within an organisation to research, advocate and campaign on an issue, as well as how they included people with lived experience of the policy issue they described.

Some organisations came with very clear answers to these questions and a firm idea of what issue they wanted to work on with us and how. Others were more explorative – with the conversation allowing organisations space to reflect on their work and the complexity of issues affecting the people that they worked with. Others simply wanted to hear more about the Policy Unit and connect with us.

Following this consultation phase, an initial analysis was undertaken where we collated the issues raised, looked at duplication and crossovers, and devised a shortlist of issues raised by the sector. An internal decision was made to exclude issues which were outside of our expertise, or which were oriented towards very specific policy and legislative changes.

Faced with a plethora of problems in the asylum and immigration system, it can feel nigh on impossible to narrow it down to one issue.

The shortlist

The resulting shortlist of eight potential projects included:

  1. Visioning a new asylum system – A number of organisations spoke about the need to go beyond firefighting and crisis mode, and to have the space to think long term and strategically about what an effective and compassionate asylum system could look like.
  2. Asylum accommodation - This was raised by a number of organisations as one of the most significant challenges facing the sector and people in the asylum system. This would involve setting out what policy shifts are needed to resolve entrenched issues with asylum accommodation, including moving on from hotel accommodation.
  3. Safe routes - Several organisations raised the need to do further work to explore and develop practical policy solutions to enable people to come to the UK safely and legally.
  4. Migrant destitution and ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) - A large cohort of organisations proposed ideas related to relieving migrant destitution, in particular through NRPF reform.
  5. Resettlement and community sponsorship – One organisation proposed a project that would look at improving resettlement schemes, at lessons from Homes for Ukraine, and at how community sponsorship could be upscaled to enhance capacity and build community resilience.
  6. Climate migration – One organisation proposed a project that would look to shape the climate-migration narrative and develop concrete policy asks that can respond to people moving because of climate threats.
  7. Detention estate – One organisation proposed a project looking at the expansion of the detention estate the integration impacts of detention versus accommodation in the community.
  8. Exploitation and modern slavery – A small group of organisations proposed a project that would look in depth at the intersection of the immigration system and workers’ rights and consider how the current system propels migrant exploitation and modern slavery.

Advisory group deliberations

At our first advisory group meeting we tasked members with helping us to prioritise which of these projects we should take forward. To help guide the conversation, as well as the parameters for our decision making, we also shared four key questions that formed the basis of our evaluation criteria:

  • Do organisations lack internal capacity to develop policy analysis and recommendations on this issue?
  • Do we have policy expertise on this issue?
  • Are there strategic opportunities for change on this issue?
  • Can we build coalitions on this issue?

A lively discussion ensued, with advisors seeing the merit of researching each of these issues, as well as highlighting the interconnectedness of many of the projects on the shortlist. In addition, members reflected on how the issues raised by organisations appeared weighted towards the asylum system, as opposed to the wider immigration system. This raised interesting questions about what kinds of organisations exist or were able to respond to the consultation, as well as prompting us to think about how we can balance the projects that we take forward so that we respond to issues from across the immigration and asylum system.

Following discussion and clarification, we did a simple ‘sticky-dot’ task, asking members to put a dot against the project they most preferred that we took forward immediately, as well as those that we might consider for our second and third projects. Admittedly, there was some sticky dot anarchy, but nonetheless, there were some projects that the group coalesced around, with the top three coming out as: visioning a new asylum system, asylum accommodation, and migrant destitution and NRPF.

Making the decision

Following the advisory group, we went away as a team and reflected on what we’d heard, as well as on our internal capacity, the complementarity of the proposed projects with our other work, and whether the proposed project would be likely to reduce demand on campaigners and organisers to produce research and therefore increase capacity within the migration sector.

And in the end, we came to a decision. We’re now underway with a project of work looking at how we can reimagine asylum accommodation. We know that this is a highly relevant issue for the sector, that there’s a lot of interest in this issue politically, and an issue that many people seeking asylum are struggling with. We feel we can add value to the current work on this – early conversations have indicated that while there’s quite a lot of existing research on the harms of asylum accommodation, there’s relatively less on what a progressive system might look like and how we can get there. That’s what we’re going to be addressing in the coming months. Look out for upcoming blogs as we delve into this issue in more detail.

We’re now underway with a project of work looking at how we can reimagine asylum accommodation

Coming to a decision has not been easy. But we feel sure that this is the right first project for the policy unit, and that we have come to this decision with the input and backing of many sector organisations as well as our expert team of advisors, three quarters of whom have lived experience of immigration and asylum systems.

As we move through the year, we’ll also be looking at what other projects we might take forward from the list too – because, unfortunately, there’s no shortage of policies that need changing.