Let me share with you this deeply frustrating article in The Times regarding Afghan asylum seekers. I want to highlight some of comments and provide a little commentary on why it is frustrating. The article begins this way:
Afghan families evacuated to Britain have resorted to shoplifting nappies and other essentials because of a lack of government support, a charity claims.
The Refugee Council called on the government to offer immediate financial assistance as available support was taking too long to reach them.
Some families have had no access to cash for up to two weeks because of the speed at which they had to flee. Others had no cash as government funding for them had taken too long to arrive.
This irritates because this is normal. It is obviously unacceptable, and shouldn’t be the case, but it is portrayed as something unique with the incoming of Afghan asylum seekers due to the speed at which they are arriving. This simply is not true.
Many asylum seekers, when they arrive in the UK, struggle to get access to NASS support. When they eventually do get it, they are given a room in a ‘hard to let’ multiple occupancy home (more on this later) and given £30 per week. However, if their claim is successful and they receive their refugee status, they frequently have their NASS support and the home in which they live immediately removed from them.
At this point, they are told they must move onto a new system whereby the can get a bank account, claim Universal Credit and apply for council housing. But it is usual for the NASS support to stop immediately but Universal Credit payments to take, minimally, 6 weeks to come through. Some find themselves caught in a trap whereby many banks will not allow you to get an account until you have a home address, but they cannot get a home address until they have regular finance coming in with which to pay the rent and they cannot get Universal Credit without a bank account. Most end up in hostels – often for months at a time – during which time banks will take the hostel as an address. But the gap between leaving their NASS home and support behind and moving onto a new system can be weeks or months. Many end up temporarily homeless. It is usually during these periods that the asylum seekers in our church require the most support and end up staying in members’ homes.
The article goes on to state:
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are working urgently to ensure thousands of Afghans who were evacuated to the UK in exceptional circumstances receive the support they need to rebuild their lives, find work, pursue education, and integrate into their local communities.
“Due to the unprecedented demand, we have had to use temporary accommodation such as hotels. While in hotels all families are given full board meals and any essential basic items they need. We will be issuing cash cards to all those staying in temporary hotel accommodation and are ensuring emergency cash is available to those who need it in the interim.
Again, it is usual for asylum seekers to find themselves temporarily placed in hotels. For example, I wrote this some time ago when Nigel Farage was making hay with the fact that Bromsgrove district had temporarily placed asylum seekers in a local hotel. The usual route for most asylum seekers to Oldham is to be placed in the Britannia Hotel in Liverpool before being dispersed to their NASS housing here. It is simply disingenuous of the Home Office to suggest that the scale of the Afghan intake is making hotel stays exceptional. It isn’t.
In our experience (perhaps it is different in this case) when families end up temporarily in hotels – both when they first enter the UK and, later, sometimes as a temporary measure when they receive refugee status and have their NASS support removed – there is no full board. They are given a room without the means to cook. As discussed above, they frequently do not have access to any funds either with which they can easily buy food. With troubling frequency, our church has had to cook for people and provide shopping for them because they have no other means to get it.
Those who are not lucky enough to even get such inadequate accommodation in a hotel (often a family of 4 or more in one room), others are placed in different forms of temporary housing. Often, this is condemned or uninhabitable housing. There are a set of flats in Oldham that have been condemned and are due to be destroyed. We have often had asylum seekers placed here. Others are put in houses that cannot be let out to anyone else because they are not habitable. Again, the issues of access to cash and funds are still present.
Whilst hotel stays might sound luxurious – and next to some of the uninhabitable accommodation provided it might comparably seem that way – it really is anything but. It is usually whole families in single rooms, a lot of the time full board is not provided and they are not allowed to cook anything for themselves in their rooms. Access to money is frequently unavailable. Placements in hotels are always temporary because they are expensive and are typically the precursor to being moved into hard to let housing.
What is particularly frustrating about the article is the way in which it presents these things as somehow unique to the current situation. Sadly, these things are quite normal for the majority of asylum seekers who make it to the UK. It is disingenuous of the Home Office to pretend otherwise.