Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Hope and Homelessness Commission Report

Nottingham Citizens for Sanctuary today released their report on destitution in Nottingham at a packed event held at St Nicholas Church in central Nottingham.

Entitled “Homelessness and Hope”, the report summarises the work of a six person commission who surveyed the extent of destitution amongst those seeking sanctuary over a three month period. The report was based on over 100 interviews with destitute asylum seekers and received dozens of expert testimonies.

The aims of the commission were twofold : to ensure that vulnerable people did not suffer unnecessarily and that tax payers money was used effectively by the National Asylum Support Service (NASS )

The Commission report identified three main areas of concern, which are listed below, together with a relevant testimony and some of the reports recommendations :

The state of Asylum Support Service accommodation provision.
“On March 20th 2012 G4S won the contract to provide NASS accommodation in Nottingham and across the East Midlands. The details of the contract specify high standards of service, while at the same time the total value of the contract has fallen significantly…“There has been some excellent work done, particularly by the local authority, yet we have identified instances where the service has been woefully inadequate - little better than a taxpayer funded giveaway for shoddy landlords.”

Testimony : “The house was virtually uninhabitable. There were fluids dripping from the bathroom coming directly into the kitchen cooking area. . . the stench from the fluids made me sick...after a year our housing officer explained that the landlord had refused to undertake the necessary repairs”

Recommendations : Frontline personnel should receive training to ensure they have an understanding of the asylum process from the viewpoint of the client.
A welcome service should be set up to orientate new arrivals.

The extent and severity of destitution in Nottingham
“We were shocked then to discover 26 children currently living destitute in our city, 22 of whom were receiving no support from Nottingham City Council’s Children’s Services.”

“74 of the 105 households had been destitute, those households that are or had been destitute contained 69 children “

Testimony : “At that time the conditions we were living in were terrible - I was surviving with my two children on £5 per week - we could only afford bread, sugar and tea. I could manage on one slice of bread per day, my oldest son on two. For my youngest son I used to boil the bread in water to make a porridge so that it would last longer.”

Recommendations : Unused or undesriable property should be made available to those who are destitute in the city.
A protocol should be defined to ensure that Childrens Services deal with destitute children appropriately, thus saving indirect costs.

Problems faced transitioning to normal life after receiving leave to remain.
"If individuals receive a positive decision they are given 28 days before the termination of NASS support in which to arrange their transition and integration into mainstream British society, if the decision is negative this period is reduced to 21 days...It is currently recognised by most public authorities that “transition is not being got right”"

Testimony : For one month I was homeless. With no support I had to sleep outside: I tried to sleep in the mosque and was refused, I slept in a park outside Broadmarsh Centre under the bridge or spent all night in the bus station. There was nowhere for me to wash my face and I had to wait till the shops opened before I could go to the toilet. There was nowhere for me to shower for over two weeks.”

Recommendations : Relevant agencies should, as a matter of urgency, develop a pilot comprehensive transition process for those receiving positive decisions.

The launch of the Hope and Homlessness Commission Report

The event at St Nicholas’ was attended by Gail Adams, from the UKBA and Jules Bickers from NASS accommodation contractor G4S, both of whom were asked to make a series of commitments by the commission.

What was surprising to BFTF was the extent to which UKBA and G4S accepted the proposals for improvements made by the commission and the way in which they shared many of the aims that the commission had - to provide a sufficiently good, efficient and timely service to those seeking sanctuary and to ensure that taxpayers money was not wasted. Both agreed to provide written responses to the commissions questions within 2 months.

Gail Adams commented positively on the fact that she had been involved in the work of the commission, saying that "Progress is best made when we work together."

Commenting on the commissions proposal for a "welcome pack" for new arrivals, Gail commented that "todays turnout is testament to how supportive you are in Nottingham to such a proposal."

She also mentioned that the "Regional Strategic Migration Partnership" was a good place to discuss many of the proposals being discussed, as key stakeholders were already a part of this organisation.

Regarding the quality of accomodation, Gail stated that "the tax payer does not pay for poor accomodation... but we need to know where [poor housing is]".

Jules Bicken, from G4S was also postive about the way the commission had conducted itself, commenting that, "we have appreciated the tone of the meetings we have held". He also appeared keen to ensure that G4S moved forward in terms of the quality of its service, saying "we hope we will, through our actions, show a committment to improved performance".

Destitute men, women and children are living in Nottingham

The whole event was a real testament to the power of community organising and the way in which meaningful dialogue can be undertaken with statutory organisations. It was particularly encouraging to see that UKBA and G4S were happy to agree to many of the committments that the commission asked them to sign up to.

BFTF looks forward with interest to seeing how the engagement develops over time.

In closing, one of the commissioners suggested that it listeners had been shocked by some of the testimonies they had heard, they should use their democratic rights to hold their elected councillors and MP's accountable for the way people were being treated in Nottingham.

The HOST project, where people lodge one of Nottinghams destitute people on a temporay basis was also mentioned as a project people might want to particiapte in.

And lastly, a number of volunteers are required to resource some of the initatives that the commission wish to set with UKBA and G4S.

The Commission was supported by a wide range of organisations including NNRF, NAT, the Red Cross, The Anglican Diocese of Nottingham and Southwell, the UNISON East Midlands Region, St Barnabas Catholic Cathedral, Himmah, Faith Action Nottingham and Refugee Action.

You can find the report here : http://www.citizensuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Homelessness-and-Hope-Report.pdf

Update 10th Nov 2014:
Quick rant:
It seems to BFTF that the debate on immigration is often presented either by those on the right (who ignore the UK's obligations, the fact that conflict drives refugee migration and that there are many injustices in the way the system works) and those on the left (who ignore that fact that some people lie when claiming asylum). This can make it hard to participate in the debate if ones position is somewhere in the middle ground.
Rant over

An interesting contribution has been made by Roda Madziva, Vivien Lowndes and Saul Becker at the "Making Science Public" blog. In two posts (here and here), the team investigate many aspects of the "Go Home Now" immigration vans used by the Home Office in 2013, including the history of migration controls in the UK, the reaction to the vans by other stakeholders, and the effect they had on those seeking asylum.

Something that struck BFTF while reading the posts was the question of why these vans had only been used to persuade failed asylum seekers to hand themselves in, why were there not also similar vans going round the richest parts of London suggesting that tax evaders should also 'fess up or face the prospect of doing some bird?

Or indeed a van parked up permanently outside the Houses of Parliament with a big sign urging MPs not to lie to the electorate.

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