The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 3rd February 2017

MPs say refugee housing is ‘shameful’

THE HOUSE of Commons Home Affairs Committee described housing provided for refugees in Britain by private sector contractors as “a disgrace” and “shameful” in a report published on Tuesday.

The Asylum Accommodation report identified problems including:

The committee said the current contract scheme isn’t working:

The Committee recommended immediate action to improve standards and monitoring — including giving local authorities powers of inspection, higher standards and new penalties. This process should be reformed to take account of the experience and particular needs of extremely vulnerable people including victims of torture and trafficking, those with issues relating to gender, women who are pregnant and new mothers.

It also recommended immediate action by the Home Office to speed up processing so that fewer people need asylum accommodation — the Committee has warned in previous reports that a backlog in cases has been developing. Those warnings were not heeded and the consequences are now evident. Pressure on the asylum system, and on accommodation in particular, will not reduce unless the Government takes action to increase its capacity to process applications.

The committee also called for immediate action to encourage more local authorities to take asylum seekers — including greater funding, involvement and flexibility such as having more control over the location of hostels. (The committee notes that far more local authorities have signed up for the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Scheme, which is better resourced and more flexible.)

The Committee has repeated its call for action to ensure refugees are shared more fairly amongst local authorities before this but there has been little progress. If local authorities still refuse unreasonably to become involved in providing asylum accommodation on a voluntary basis after the measures recommended have been in place for 12 months, then the Government should use its powers to require them to do so.

And it called for a complete overhaul of the COMPASS contracting process to replace it with a new system.

Yvette Cooper MP, who chairs the committee, said: “The state of accommodation for some asylum seekers and refugees in this country is a disgrace. And the current contract system just isn’t working. Major reforms are needed.”

The civil service union PCS said that the refugee housing scheme, known as COMPASS, is contracted to private companies including G4S and Serco, and the union has called for the Home Office to take it back and work directly with local authorities.

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: “This is a harrowing account of how catastrophically and shamefully this government is failing asylum seekers and the communities where they live.

“The Home Office must be given the resources to process claims efficiently, so people are not left in limbo, and the profit motive must be removed so central and local government can plan properly how to provide this vital public service.”

Speaking for the civil rights pressure group Liberty, Bella Sankey said: “When people come to our country seeking sanctuary — including pregnant women, children and survivors of rape and torture — at the very least they deserve our respect. That is how we distinguish ourselves from regimes which have chosen to pull the plug on compassion and humanity altogether.

“This is the shameful legacy of a policy of tasking unscrupulous companies with manning everything from asylum accommodation to our national discrimination helpline — despite those firms’ abysmal records of failures and abuses.”