Violet Dickenson and John Grayson, who have worked with the South Yorkshire Migration & Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG), wrote two articles – here and here – for the Open Democracy website providing details about the lives of homeless refugee families forced to live in unsafe hostels.
The families are placed in hostels because they have “no recourse to public funds,” meaning no access to benefits and homelessness help from the Housing Department. Local authorities – in this case, Sheffield Council – “cannot provide accommodation under the housing laws,” in the words of one councillor. Nonetheless, the council acts under Children’s Social Care duties, finding the bare minimum accommodation and giving the families “only the equivalent of UK Child Benefit (around £20 for the first child).”
According to Dickenson and Grayson’s investigations, “Sheffield City Council […] placed 43 homeless families with 97 children in bed and breakfast accommodation in the 11 months to 30 November 2017, according to an FOI we submitted. Some of them had been placed in B&Bs more than once, and some for many weeks. Of the 97 children, 40 were under five years old.”
While “councils are obliged by law to avoid placing pregnant women or families with children in B&Bs except as a last resort, and then for no longer than six weeks,” the investigation revealed that migrant families with NRPF had been placed in hostels for more than a year, sometimes two, even in cases where the council’s own assessment found that accommodation was unsuitable and unsafe.
As the researchers, suggest, the situation in Sheffield is not unique, but rather part of a broader trend whereby councils struggle to find accommodation for destitute migrant families, in a context where the infrastructure to support the impoverished and homeless is sorely lacking.
While campaigners in Sheffield have struggled to get the council to take action – repeated letters and petitions led nowhere for families – the researchers conclude that resistance is possible.
They note: “In December 2017 the Labour mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson unveiled a £250,000 homeless facility called Labre House in the city centre. In a break with national policy, he said: ‘The centre will also help failed asylum seekers who the Government has said have ‘no recourse to public funds’.”