An ongoing prayer of our church

The Guardian has reported that asylum seeker housing are in property unfit for human habitation. You can read the full report here. If you, like me, have spent any length of time going into asylum seeker properties – particularly those that are deemed ‘temporary homes’ – you will probably greet this report with the same enthusiasm as a paper reporting, with shock, ‘Queen, head of state and church!’ Anyone who knows anything about asylum seekers knows this to be depressingly true.

For example, when one family in our church was granted their refugee status – that is, we accepted their claim to be legitimate and gave them leave to remain – we immediately moved them out of their National Asylum Support Service (NASS) house and into a hostel. That hostel put them all into a single room – with others also there too – without cooking facilities, curfews for being home and no heating. When they were finally granted a temporary home, they were placed in a high rise flat that had been condemned by the council and was due to be demolished because it was deemed unfit for habitation. Thankfully, that family eventually got a long-term home and have been able to make it their own. But the situation is not an isolated one.

Another family with us ended up in a local low-budget hotel with similar issues to the hostel faced by the previous family. Again, they have since moved into a temporary home and view it as something of an upgrade even though it has been granted to them on the grounds it is a ‘hard to let’ property. For those who are unaware of what that means, it is the kind of property that is deemed unfit – and is routinely rejected as uninhabitable – by those who have no means of privately renting or purchasing a property. It is the kind of home (rightly) seen as utterly unfit for those on social security. But asylum seekers can apparently suck it.

These are not isolated incidents. We can repeat the stories many times over. We have seen houses in all states of disrepair, rat infested properties, cramped living conditions and worse. Those who end up in homes that are not dilapidated or overrun with creatures that ought not to be there are not the norm.

This is not the only way in which we make clear that asylum seekers are deemed of less value than others. The standard NASS payment to an asylum seeker is half what we deem acceptable for a single man claiming JSA. Given the noise we (rightly) make when people are placed under JSA sanctions – deeming this the bare minimum one need to live on and impossible for them when it is deducted – how asylum seekers are expected to live on £37.75 is beyond me. This is the kind of level that we deem a sanction to those in receipt of JSA.

If your initial claim for asylum fails, and you appeal the decision, you are given c. £33 loaded onto a special card that can only be spent on food and toileteries in particular shops. Given that 50% of asylum cases are overturned on appeal, that is a brutal response to someone for whom it is quite likely was rejected on spurious grounds. Knowing this high rate of wrong decisions (what other situation would we accept a 50% failure rate?), to remove the meagre support granted to them and replace it with a significant, liberty-curtailing measure seems harsh.

I would encourage you to read the Guardian report in full. You may be shocked by some of what you read about the level of accommodation being offered. But those of us who spend any time with asylum seekers know that these things are not isolated. I can think of many homes in disrepair, that have been cramped, families being placed in insufficient space, infestations and problems with rising damp causing breathing problems and worse. These things are no surprise to us.

Sadly, these things are no surprise to the Home Office either. Periodic reports in the national press lead to small, insufficient responses out of little more than shame of the exposure. The refusal to do anything about the problem has nothing to do with lack of knowledge and everything to do with lack of concern. And, of course, asylum seekers can’t vote and there aren’t many votes in trying to improve their current lot. Few are bothered and aren’t moved to act until they are forced to do so. It is all sadly familiar and highly depressing.

So, we see these reports and say, ‘big whoop – we know’. What we want to see is real change. That is one ongoing prayer of our church. Would you make it one of yours?