A report from Parliament’s Cross-Party Home Affairs Select Committee this week delivered a devastating critique of the system of housing for those who apply to be a refugee in 21st century Britain.
My colleague Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Committee, described some of the conditions as simply a “disgrace,” with reports of people being placed in accommodation with infestations of mice, rats and bedbugs.
Findings also confirmed there is inadequate support for victims of rape and torture - a man who was forced to live with vermin infestations, who was tortured in his country of origin, said the noise of the rats triggered flashbacks to when he was in his cell with rats.
And in their response, the Refugee Council’s Chief Executive Maurice Wren highlighted that in addition to “the committee paint[ing] a grim picture of poor conditions across the board… it’s particularly shocking that mums-to-be are being prevented from obtaining the urgent medical care and the nutritious food they need during pregnancy. There’s no simply excuse for putting the lives of women and their babies at risk.”
Accommodation has been provided to asylum seekers via six regional contracts since 2012. These are delivered by the Serco, G4S and Clearsprings Ready Homes providers.
The committee found that they are housing more people than they were funded for because of the contract design, higher applications and growing delays in Home Office asylum processing.
As many of us have felt for some time, the committee also found that the “dispersal” scheme used to place asylum seekers around the country simply doesn’t work.
As the scheme is voluntary, some local authorities are not taking part, meaning that applicants are more concentrated in a small number of areas, including some of the most deprived areas.
For example, while there are 1,042 asylum seekers housed in Bolton and 1,029 in Rochdale, there are none at all in Theresa May’s Maidenhead constituency and only 88 housed in the Hastings and Rye constituency of Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
It is becoming clearer and clearer that whilst many councils across the country are willing to step up and take in refugees, and should be applauded for this, now ministers must now come forward with proposals to ensure all local authorities play their part.
It is simply unacceptable in 21st century Britain that people fleeing war and persecution are being placed in such disgraceful conditions, and the Home Affairs Select Committee is right in calling for a major overhaul of the system for housing destitute asylum seekers.
Ultimately, it is for the Home Office to ensure that councils receive adequate support so they can provide the housing and services these incredibly vulnerable people need.
This week’s report has played an invaluable role in highlighting this issue – now the Government must act.