William Eichler 31 January 2017

Government asylum accommodation a ‘disgrace’, MPs say

MPs have branded the state of some asylum accommodation provided by Government contractors a ‘disgrace’ and called for more local authorities to take in asylum seekers.

The Home Affairs Committee report on asylum accommodation found infestations of mice, rats and bedbugs were the second biggest source of complaint of people living in dispersed accommodation.

They also discovered families were being forced to live in unclean conditions with inadequate support for vulnerable people – a situation the committee described as ‘shameful’.

Committee members said this was the result of the current contract scheme ‘not working’, with inadequate inspection, compliance and complaints regimes in place. They called for a ‘complete overhaul’ of the scheme.

They also concluded it was caused by growing delays in Home Office asylum processing and higher applications.

‘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,’ said committee chair Yvette Cooper.

‘We have come across too many examples of vulnerable people in unsafe accommodation for example children living with infestations of mice, rats or bed bugs, lack of health care for pregnant women, or inadequate support for victims of rape and torture.’

‘No one should be living in conditions like that,’ she added.

The Home Affairs Committee also said the current system of allowing local authorities to take in asylum seekers voluntarily was leading to a situation where claimants were concentrated in a small number of the most deprived areas.

The MPs recommended ‘immediate action’ be taken to encourage all local authorities to take their share of asylum seekers. This could include increased funding and greater flexibility so councils can have more control over the location of hostels.

‘Even where the accommodation and support are of a good standard, it is still far too concentrated in the most deprived areas,’ said Ms Cooper.

‘It is completely unfair on those local authorities and communities that have signed up and are now taking many more people, when so many local authorities in more affluent areas are still doing nothing at all.’

The report also warned the funding for asylum seekers’ accommodation was much lower than for the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Scheme, leading to a two tier system for refugees once asylum claims are concluded.

Responding to the committee’s findings, Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association's (LGA) asylum, migration and refugee task group, said that councils have a ‘strong track record’ in helping asylum seekers and refugees.

‘Councils are stepping up to the plate with more than 200 local authorities becoming dispersal areas,’ he said.

‘We hope that the Government’s future contracts for asylum accommodation and support addresses the challenges in securing accommodation in other local authority areas, particularly where there is limited availability and high cost housing.’

‘It is pleasing that the report recognises that there are multiple schemes in operation for supporting refugees and asylum seekers in our local areas,’ he continued.

‘However, it is vital that all these schemes are fully aligned and funded to ensure councils and their partners are able to offer support for vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, whilst continuing to provide vital services for their local communities.’

Cllr Simmonds also defended voluntary council participation in schemes designed to help refugees and asylum seekers.

‘Councils are clear that continuing to have voluntary participation in these schemes is the best approach to meeting the needs of refugees and asylum seekers in their communities, and ensuring these communities are fully prepared to welcome new arrivals,’ he said.

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