24 Feb Guest Article by the Immigration Advice Service: Homelessness and Destitution – The Scope for Migrants in Scotland
This article has been written by Jack Yates who is a correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service.
Homelessness in the United Kingdom is a growing issue; while official statistics demonstrated a fall in homelessness in 2018 – which would make it the first decrease since the turn of the decade – the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, was clear that this reported 2% reduction in rough sleeping could not be trusted. In Scotland in particular, a household becomes homeless every 18 minutes, and 30,000 households were deemed to be homeless by their local authority in the year from 2018-19. Homelessness applications have risen by 3% compared to the previous year, reaching 36,465. In 2017/18 14,000 children were part of a household that was classed as homeless – meaning 38 children became homeless in Scotland every single day. These numbers are gut-wrenchingly high, but even this does not show the full picture as the true number of homeless people is exasperatingly difficult to calculate.
The authorities have failed to adequately address the homelessness crisis and instead resort to devious and heartless tactics to ‘deal’ with the issue – from implementing anti-homeless spikes, evicting homeless communities from the thousands of ‘tent-cities’ that have sprung up across the UK, to giving homeless people one-way bus, train, and plane tickets to leave an area, ostensibly in an effort to reconnect them with support networks. Campaigners have described such initiatives more accurately as “street cleansing”.
Yet this treatment of those living on the edges of society is shamefully common. It has become a symptom of a neoliberal system. It should come as no surprise that as the UK has seen benefits and public services decimated through austerity, those in financially precarious situations are left behind to fend for themselves, often ending up on the streets. However, in the aftermath of the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ policy that continues to tear families and livelihoods apart, homeless migrants’ difficulties are multiplied.
Migrants across England and Scotland, as well as asylum seekers, find themselves at an elevated risk of destitution and homelessness in comparison to other sectors of the population. In Glasgow, refused asylum seekers have routinely been kicked out onto the streets when the private companies that provide their government-funded housing, such as SERCO, indiscriminately change the locks, jeopardising claimants right to appeal the Home Office’s decision which must be filed in an inordinately tight turnaround of 14 days.
Economic migrants and those ‘subject to immigration control’ are saddled with the classification of ‘No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF)’ rule which means that they cannot access welfare benefits and social housing. With Brexit on the horizon, fears are rising that the treatment of homeless migrants will worsen – a fear that is certainly not misplaced as recent Home Office policy saw officials attend charities and places of worship to seek out and deport them. A bad Brexit outcome could drastically exacerbate an already dire situation.
In Scotland, the Home Office recently parted ways with the controversial SERCO which has been welcomed by campaigners as a positive step in the right direction since over 300 properties were affected by the despicable scandal. Mears, the new provider, has said that they will no longer evict asylum seekers without a court order being issued and will ensure that those using their housing will have access to help and support from Migrant Help. Whether this will actually result in more positive outcomes is yet to be seen, but in the context of the current treatment of migrants and asylum seekers it is right to remain sceptical.
The roll-out of Universal Credit has led to a rise in homelessness, from British Citizens to migrants; EU citizens have been made homeless after facing destitution resulting from being declined for Universal Credit despite having the right to reside in the UK. When these decisions are challenged, the claimant usually wins, however they often wait around 40 weeks for a hearing, struggling to pay rent and bills in the interim. This displays a direct link between the treatment of migrants and homelessness across the UK. This is even more daunting in the face of the recent announcement that the Government will slash the funding that enables vulnerable refugees to access housing and healthcare in the event of a no-deal Brexit – which is still a possibility, albeit diluted.
It is clear that decades of neoliberalism and austerity have resulted in a rise in homelessness in the UK, but the impact of the brutal policies targeted toward migrants and asylum seekers is a lesser-known evil that adds to this. It is high time that the Government effectively provides homelessness support for asylum seekers and migrants, and removes the barriers that can block access to existing support as well as dismantling the systems that push vulnerable people into destitution and homelessness due to their immigration status.