Housing Blog – Part 1
As the housing market is squeezed, many are feeling the fiscal impact on their mortgage or rental payments each month. Similarly, the UK housing crisis is impacting the welfare of asylum seekers while they are waiting for their claim to be processed by the Home Office.
If they have no other option, asylum seekers are entitled to housing provided by the Home Office. According to the Home Office, 37,000 asylum seekers are living in hotels across the UK (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-63556895). Initial accommodation was intended to bridge the gap between an asylum seeker presenting themselves as destitute and finding a room in a multi-occupancy house. What was once meant to be a temporary measure is gradually becoming a permanent solution.
It is a complex issue with more than one contributing factor, the most prominent of which is the chronic shortage of affordable housing in the UK and profit driven housing contractors.
While the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities state that there are 653,000 vacant dwellings in England (https://lordslibrary.parliament.uk/housing-in-england-issues-statistics-and-commentary/#heading-3), this is not enough to keep pace with the growing need. In 2018, Crisis commissioned a report stating that 340,000 homes a year need to be built until 2031 to tackle the under-supply of housing – two thirds of which should be affordable (https://www.crisis.org.uk/about-us/latest-news/england-short-of-four-million-homes/). Simply put, for the Home Office accommodation contractors to provide housing, there needs to be affordable housing stock available.
The Guardian reported in October that the Home Office accommodation providers get better terms on their contracts once the asylum seeker population rises above 70,000. This figure currently stands at over 143,000 (ref). In the last year, Ready Homes/Clearsprings who hold the housing contract for the South-west, enjoyed a six-fold increase in profits this year (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/oct/31/firm-managing-hotels-for-uk-asylum-seekers-posts-bumper-profits). All the while, those living in the hotels are receiving just over £1 a day. With this, they are meant to be able to afford suitable clothing, a sim card, and any other essential expenses.
In the last three months, six hotels in Devon & Cornwall have taken on contracts with the Home Office to provide asylum seekers with accommodation. During the winter months, these would otherwise be almost empty or closed seaside resorts. Superficially, this does not appear to be a problem. However, many local authorities in Devon and Cornwall have never had to cater for the needs of asylum seekers and are often given little to no warning of their arrival at the hotel. Therefore, the local authority is often not equipped to deal with the increased number of people that need to access healthcare, local services, and support – which are already over-stretched.
The Home Office is not required to provide the local authority with any extra financial provisions. This is highlighted in the difference between spot contracts and block bookings. When the Home Office makes a block booking with a hotel, they must provide financial support to the NHS to increase capacity in that area, which supports primary healthcare. Spot bookings, which are short-term contracts, do not require the Home Office to provide any extra funding. Interestingly, spot bookings have been the preferred method from the Home Office with the hotels in the Devon and Cornwall region.
Staying in a hotel, in a place you neither know nor chosen, is quite a different experience to going on holiday. Hotels are not equipped for day-to-day autonomous living. You cannot cook for yourself or decide what you eat – this is all provided by an external catering company and heated up in a microwave on site. At least half of the hotels in Devon and Cornwall are in areas that do not have access to places of worship other than Christianity and do not have a third sector who are practised in assisting asylum seekers and refugees. These issues further isolate and create an environment not conducive to maintaining good mental health and wellbeing.
Hotels are not suitable long-term living arrangements for asylum seekers. As previously mentioned, there is not a singular problem, and therefore solution, to this issue. In the coming weeks, other articles will explore other compounding factors and how it is impacting asylum seekers in the UK.