NEWS16 June 2014

Europe’s white working class communities feel marginalised

Europe News

EUROPE — While the focus is often on the integration experiences of ethnic and minority communities across Europe, a report from the Open Society Foundations has found that white working class communities experience inequality and exclusion of their own.


As manufacturing industry has made way for services and the welfare state has been rolled back, the working classes in Western Europe have seen employment opportunities change significantly over the past 40 years. Working class communities can no longer rely upon the availability of secure jobs and are often forced into lower-paid and more precarious work.

In 2012, Open Society started a project to better understand marginalised majority communities in six northwest European cities — Aarhus, Amsterdam, Berlin, Lyon, Manchester and Stockholm. The research provides an insight into the daily experiences of white working class communities across Europe.

While the majority ethnic populations in the six cities that this research focuses on were white, many of the factors that marginalise working class communities, such as a lack of decent jobs, poor health or disadvantages in the education system, impact people of any ethnic background.

Different communities across Europe that the researchers spoke to felt they were being blamed for their own marginalisation, especially as wider social and economic factors were often downplayed. Media portrayal was cited in the UK and the Netherlands. There the “antisocial television” genre focuses on poor families with behavioural or social problems creating stereotypes that can reinforce a community’s sense of exclusion.

The research on white working class communities found a different reality to that portrayed in these programmes. For instance in Manchester there was a strong work ethic among the people that participated in the research.

Low-pay and insecurity was a feature throughout the research, but in each community, bonds of kinship and social networks of support remained strong. And despite media headlines to the contrary and the rise of certain political parties, the research found that it was by no means inevitable that outsiders or newcomers were not welcome. Some of the six communities researched have been ethnically diverse for decades; others are now changing. Though there was prejudice toward outsiders among some, many also expressed interest in contact with people from other backgrounds and a desire to build new shared values. In some cities such as Aarhus in Denmark, ethnic diversity was seen as a positive development and a source of pride.

At a national level, in the UK for instance, immigration is linked with popular discontent, but when the questions were asked at the local level, individuals were willing to negotiate differences and find common ground with newcomers, as well as understand the wider social and economic factors having an impact.

One of the conclusions from all six studies was that government at every level needs to engage with citizens in these communities.