Social Justice

Allowing asylum seekers to work will help tackle growing refugee homelessness crisis, says minister

Scottish government responds as fears grow over refugees being made homeless by Home Office policy

refugee homeless, Emma Roddick

"It’s a symptom of a very poorly designed immigration policy overall," said Roddick

Letting asylum seekers work would help to avoid the growing crisis of homelessness among refugees, Scotland’s refugee minister has said.

The Big Issue has been exposing the scale of the crisis, with London and Manchester reporting a sharp increase in rough sleeping after asylum seekers are being evicted from their accommodation at short notice. Councils expect at least 6,900 asylum seekers to be evicted by the end of 2023.

Emma Roddick, Scotland’s minister for equalities, migration and refugees, said she was hearing concerns about refugees at risk of homelessness on a daily basis from councils in the country.

“When they get positive decisions on their asylum case they are finding themselves without money, without anywhere else to go and destitute. We would avoid that by allowing asylum seekers the right to work, and to social security,” Roddick told The Big Issue.

“In the meantime, I’ve very recently written to the UK government asking for money to be given to local authorities to support new refugees in the same way that asylum money has been given to councils.”

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Roddick’s comments came after Susan Aitken, the leader of Glasgow City Council, warned of an impending humanitarian crisis. Glasgow expects 1,400 refugees to become homeless in the coming months, and has appealed to the government for help.

Speaking at a meeting of Glasgow City Council, Aitken said the Home Office “are trying to convince voters they are delivering on their ugly rhetoric on asylum but all they are doing is leaving panic and destitution in their wake”.

In Edinburgh, where the council has recently declared a housing emergency, The Big Issue understands the situation is being monitored, but no increase in rough sleeping has been seen yet.

Changes made by the Home Office in August mean asylum seekers are, in practice, often being given just seven days to find somewhere to live before they are evicted.

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While living in Home Office accommodation and waiting for a decision on their claim, asylum seekers are not able to work.

After a decision has been made, newly-recognised refugees were previously afforded 28 days to find somewhere to live, beginning when they received paperwork allowing them to work and secure alternative accommodation

However, frontline charities are warning that the Home Office is applying its policy more strictly. The 28 days now starts when refugees are told their claim has been granted, with a wait for paperwork meaning they often just have seven days remaining before they are evicted.

Combined with efforts to clear the tens of thousands of cases in the asylum backlog by Christmas, it has created a growing crisis pushing refugees onto the streets.

Roddick, who has herself experienced homelessness, said the Scottish government was concerned about the scale of the crisis.

“I think it’s a symptom of a very poorly designed immigration policy overall, or perhaps one that’s designed with different goals in mind to what ours would be.

“But there are plenty of solutions, we have presented a number of them to the UK government, but my hope is that at some point it will listen, or Scotland will become independent and we get to design a better one ourselves.”

The Scottish government’s is the latest political reaction to the crisis and Big Issue’s reporting.

Labour’s shadow minister for homelessness, Mike Amesbury, said the crisis reflected a Home Office “so chaotic and incompetent that it is utterly failing to fulfil this most basic function of government”.

In response to The Big Issue’s investigation, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow, which is why we have taken immediate action to speed up processing times and cut costs for taxpayers.

“To minimise the risk of homelessness, we encourage individuals to make their onward plans as soon as possible after receiving their decision, whether that is leaving the UK following a refusal, or taking steps to integrate in the UK following a grant.

“We offer ample support once claims have been granted through Migrant Help, access to the labour market and advice on applying for universal credit.”

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