No Longer Invisible: 

The Latin American Community in London

By Cathy McIlwaine

Queen Mary, University of London

The academic foundations for the Uncovering the Invisible: A portrait of Latinamericans in the UK project are rooted in the research No Longer Invisible: The Latin American Community in London which was written by Cathy McIlwaine (with Juan Camilo Cock and Brian Linneker) from Queen Mary University of London. This study outlined the findings of the most comprehensive research to date of this largely overlooked community and was commissioned by charities, Trust for London and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service.

The report establishes for the first time the size of the Latin American community in London which is estimated to be 113,500 (with 186,500 in the UK as a whole). The population is also growing having increased four-fold since the 2001 census. This means that Latin Americans now represent a significant proportion of the city’s total population. The largest national group are Brazilians followed by Colombians with large numbers of Ecuadorians, Bolivians and Peruvians. However, as the portraits show, there are people from all countries in the region living in London (and the UK more widely).

Drawing on alarge survey of over 1,000 Latin Americans living in London No Longer Invisible shows that the population is largely young and well-educated with very high employment rates. Although they are employed in all spheres of London’s labour market, as the portraits illustrate, the majority are unable to fully utilise their professional skills. More than half are employed in low-skilled and low-paid jobs in cleaning, catering and hospitality services, despite previous careers such as teaching, accountancy, engineering and social work. In turn, over 40% of Latin Americans experience workplace abuse and exploitation.

Despite lower than average incomes, take-up of public services and state benefits is low: 1 in 5 Latin Americans have never been to a GP, 6 out of 10 have never been to a dentist in the UK and only 1 in 5 receive some form of state welfare benefit. In addition, the majority (70%), including the second generation who are fluent in English, perceive discrimination to be a major barrier to improving their quality of life.

Again reflected in the portraits, while some sections of the community have settled successfully, others face multiple obstacles to their integration. For some regularising their immigration status in this country is central to overcoming many of the challenges they face such as workplace abuse and accessing public services. Other key concerns included English language difficulties, concentration in jobs with low prospects of social mobility, poor housing conditions, and exclusion from social, health and welfare services.

These concerns feed into the main types of support identified by Latin Americans themselves as needed to reduce disadvantage and exclusion. These revolve around pathways to regularising immigration status; accessible English language classes; reliable immigration advice; and access to services and support to help the community to become better integrated into the working, social and cultural life of London.

There have been important synergies between the research and the photography project in that both have uncovered the invisible, diverse but also difficult lives of many Latin Americans living in the UK. This photographic project will provide another important contribution to overcoming the invisibility of the community in the UK. It will highlight the challenges that Latin Americans face but will also recognise their successes as a vibrant, active and valuable part of British society, culture and economic life.

The report can be accessed here:

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