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Manchester mayor Andy Burnham blasts Tories over 'arrogant' and 'dishonest' treatment of refugees

Greater Manchester has seen a sharp rise in refugees becoming homeless after being evicted from Home Office accommodation. Mayor Andy Burnham tells The Big Issue the government could easily fix the problem

Andy Burnham. Photo: Max Kent

Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has accused the government of creating a crisis and acting arrogantly by pushing refugees into homelessness.

New home secretary James Cleverly could fix the crisis if it worked with councils, Burnham said in an interview with The Big Issue, as new figures reveal the number of asylum seekers leaving accommodation and becoming homeless in parts of Greater Manchester has more than doubled.

The comments come amid a worsening crisis of refugee homelessness, as the government attempts to rapidly process asylum claims, while also making changes which are resulting in newly-recognised refugees having less time to find a place to live.

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“When they do those things, what happens, it simply creates unfunded pressures on local authorities. You cut support at the national level, it doesn’t save public money, it’s just councils that are left holding the problem. And it’s dishonest politics, totally dishonest politics,” said Burnham.

Of the Home Office, Andy Burnham added: “They treat councils with contempt. They suit themselves, they announce policies without thinking they’ve got any real duty to consult properly with people. It’s arrogant, really arrogant, the way they work and they just go around causing huge headaches for councils but not actually solving the problem.”

As The Big Issue revealed this week, homelessness among those leaving asylum accommodation has tripled in the wake of Home Office changes. Greater Manchester is caught up in national currents, too, with data from 5 of its 10 authorities showing at least 250 refugees have become homeless from August to October.

The Big Issue has been investigating the impact and extent of the crisis. Read more of our reporting here:

Andy Burnham called for bridging support to prevent newly-recognised refugees falling into homelessness, and warned it is becoming impossible for councils in the combined authority to find people places to live. Unfreezing local housing allowance would also reduce the strain on the housing system.

“To cut that support off abruptly creates a crisis situation. From a long term point of view it doesn’t make sense, because the Home Office just thinks about its own situation. It doesn’t for a second think about what the challenges it creates around it for different councils. It’s wrong,” Burnham said.

He added: “If you evict someone from their Home Office accommodation and in theory the Home Office thinks it’s saving money – actually, though, is it? Because we’re just putting the pressure on local bodies to deal with the situation and if people do end up sleeping rough, they will still end up in need of emergency accommodation, healthcare support, there may be issues with criminal justice. Creating crisis doesn’t save money.”

An estimated £5m in support from the government would allow Greater Manchester to support those becoming homeless, Burnham said.

“Work with us on it, to say when a person gets a letter, they can call this local number and they will help. That’s the kind of practical approach we need and it’s completely in the home secretary’s gift to create it.”

Another way to ease pressure would be allowing asylum seekers to work. Currently, those waiting for a claim are not allowed to work. Those who have been waiting more than a year can apply for permission to work – but only to fill jobs on the shortage occupations list. A recent study showed letting asylum seekers work – something backed by the Scottish government – would boost GDP by £1.6bn a year.

“The world has changed since we were in government. I think there is increasingly the case, given the nature of the labour market, to let people work while they’re waiting on their outcomes,” Andy Burnham said. “The Home Office would always say there’s a pull factor. But I’m not convinced any more about that.

“I don’t think you can reduce support and not let people help themselves. I think we need a public debate about that issue. I think there’s more public support for it than people might realise.”

But he argued that the crisis is part of a wider strategy by the government.

“It was their failing that led to people being put in hotels up and down the country. And yet they’ve used that almost to fire up the whole debate,” he said.

“I think that’s where they’ve got to at the end of this parliament – they began with levelling up intentions, they ended it with a firing up approach where they’re trying to use high octane rhetoric, and distract people’s attention from their own failure.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Once someone is informed that their asylum claim has been granted, they get at least 28 days notice to move on from their asylum accommodation. 

“Support is offered to newly recognised refugees by Migrant Help and their partners, which includes advice on how to access universal credit, the labour market and where to get assistance with housing. 

“We work with local authorities to help communities manage the impact of asylum decisions.”

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