Research Programme

International labour mobility and its impact on family and household formation among east and central Europeans living in England and Scotland

Derek McGhee, Sue HeathPaulina Trevena                       

Project summary


This qualitative study of central and eastern European migrants (primarily Polish) was carried out in four case study areas (two in England and two in Scotland). The objective was to provide a better understanding of patterns of household formation, intimacy and social networking amongst East and Central European migrant workers in the UK.


The project focused largely on patterns of household formation, change and dissolution amongst these migrant populations. A number of themes were investigated in interviews with Poles in the UK looking at, for example, the communication and networking practices of these migrant populations with friends and family who remain in Eastern and Central Europe. Also explored were the participants’ experiences of migrating and the associated familial process; their employment biographies since being in the UK; their housing biographies since being in the UK; their impressions and experiences of living in the UK (for participants with children, their experiences of the British education system); and their plans for remaining in the UK or returning to Poland.


The study found that participants’ settlement processes did not necessarily correspond with the public perception of Polish and other A8 migrants as being temporary or circular. The perceived quality of life and standards of living offered in the UK compared to Poland meant that participants felt that they could not return to Poland. In addition, there were a number of factors that contributed to participants’ settlement in the UK, besides obvious ones such as employment/wage labour.

For example, many participants were able to afford to rent their own apartment in the UK (and thus live independently of parents and in-laws). Another factor was the relationship between being able to afford a better standard of living in the UK in terms of accommodation, everyday expenses, and having access to many more free services and benefits for low-income families which are not available in Poland. The perceived differences in the education systems in the UK and Poland were another major reason for participants choosing to remain in the UK. However many parents of school-age children felt frustration at their inability to support their children’s education due to lack of linguistic competence, and considerable variation was discovered across the four research sites in terms of the support available for integrating Polish children into British schools.

Despite this, to a certain extent the participants were disconnected from their ‘national’ community of other Poles in the UK, and their lack of linguistic competence also restricted their engagement with British and other communities. The result being the participants could not fully integrate, and their support networks and social capital were also limited to a small select group of close friends and relatives in the UK.



Heath, S., McGhee, D. and Trevena, P. (2015) 'Continuity versus innovation: Young Polish migrants and practices of 'doing family' in the context of achieving independence in the UK.' Migration Studies: Polish Diaspora Review, 3/2015 Special Issue: Polish Transnational Families in United Europe, 139-156.

McGhee, D., Heath, S., Trevena, P. (2013). ‘Post-Accession Polish Migrants – their experiences of living in ‘low-demand’ social housing areas in Glasgow.’ Environment and Planning A 45: 329-343. 

McGhee, D., Heath, S., Trevena, P. (2013). ‘Competing obligations and the maintenance of physical co-presence – the impact of migration and structural constraints on post accession Polish families in the UK.’ Families, Relationships & Society, 2 (2), 229-245


Media activities

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