Social Justice

Shadow minister slams 'chaotic and incompetent' Home Office over refugee homelessness crisis

Labour's shadow homelessness minister Mike Amesbury says the Home Office is 'failing to fulfil this most basic function of government'

Mike Amesbury

Mike Amesbury, parliamentary portrait.

Labour’s shadow homelessness minister has slammed the government as “chaotic and incompetent”, after a Big Issue investigation revealed the scale of a growing homelessness crisis among refugees.

Our Evicted into Homelessness special report revealed some of the UK’s biggest cities expect almost 7,000 refugees to be evicted from their accommodation by Christmas, as a result of Home Office decisions and the promise to clear the asylum backlog.

The next day, home secretary Suella Braverman announced her intention to ban people from sleeping on the streets in tents, condemning “people, many of them from abroad, living on the streets as a lifestyle choice”.

Mike Amesbury, Labour’s shadow homelessness minister, said the story showed a government in disarray, and added that a Labour government would fix the crisis.

“The risk of increasing refugee homelessness on our streets is the latest example of the Home Office failing to get a grip on the chaos engulfing the asylum system,” Amesbury told The Big Issue.

“Labour will ensure the Home Office, DLUHC and local authorities work closely together to enable asylum seekers confirmed to be refugees to rapidly get on with their lives and start contributing to our economy and society.

“This Tory Home Office is so chaotic and incompetent that it is utterly failing to fulfil this most basic function of government, and as a result we risk seeing a significant upsurge in homelessness this winter.”

LBC radio host and one-time Big Issue seller James O’Brien speculated on a link between the growing crisis and the home secretary’s comments, sharing our coverage and telling his followers on X, formerly Twitter: “I fear this provides the ‘rationale’ for Braverman’s abominable homelessness comments.”

Attempts to clear the backlog of legacy asylum claims are resulting in an influx of asylum seekers leaving Home Office accommodation, with Birmingham expecting three years’ worth of decisions to be made in the time before Christmas.

This is being done to reduce the cost of asylum accommodation to the taxpayer, and make the asylum system more efficient.

A change made in August means asylum seekers are often being afforded less time to find accommodation before they are evicted. The Home Office says its policy has not changed and asylum seekers still receive 28 days’ notice, but frontline charities have warned that in practice, refugees are now being given “just seven days’ notice that they need to leave their accommodation”.

London has seen the numbers of rough sleepers who have left asylum accommodation double, while Manchester has seen a significant increase since the change was made.

Paula Barker, Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree and former shadow homelessness and rough sleeping minister, told The Big Issue she was deeply concerned about the “callousness and ineptitude” of the government.

“It’s a government-made crisis. The Conservative government’s decision to cut critical funding to councils has left local authorities grappling with the consequences of the government’s own failed policies,” she said.

“As MP for Liverpool Wavertree I am inundated with requests from constituents who have been failed by the Home Office. Just last week I was contacted by a family who had recently been granted leave to remain but who were on the brink of being made homeless because the Home Office had failed to provide them with the documents they needed to attain housing.

“I have been actively raising my concerns with both the Home Office and the local authorities. It is simply unacceptable that vulnerable individuals and families are left without proper shelter, support, and the opportunity to rebuild their lives, all because of the ill-thought through, heartless decisions of this government.”

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Daniel Sohege, director of human rights advocacy group Stand for All, pointed out that, for the asylum seekers and refugees falling foul of the crisis, homelessness is anything but a lifestyle choice.

“While the home secretary plans for stopping homeless people having tents, and calls rough sleeping a “lifestyle choice”, she is making the choice to leave vulnerable people seeking safety homeless,” Sohege told The Big Issue.

There’s a political side to this, said independent migration policy researcher Zoe Gardner, who argued this crisis of refugees forced to sleep on the streets can be interpreted as a deliberate strategy of division. 

It creates a situation “where refugees and asylum seekers are gathered in communities where they’re not offered adequate support, where conditions are deplorable, in order to inflame community tensions, the feeling that people shouldn’t be there,” said Gardner.

“Any government that was trying to avoid that would not pursue these policies.”

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Braverman’s “contemptible” comments were particularly at odds with the experiences of survivors of torture, said Sile Reynolds, head of asylum advocacy at Freedom from Torture.

“Homelessness is never a ‘lifestyle choice’ for anyone, let alone those who’ve fled war and torture. Refugees find themselves living on our streets as a direct result of government policy: the Home Office is knowingly evicting refugees from asylum accommodation with insufficient time to secure alternative housing. The truth is this government has failed to address the need for affordable housing for all, and so it’s playing the same old tune by demonising and criminalising those without a voice.

“Every day in our therapy rooms up and down the country, we are seeing the very real impact of short-notice evictions and the threat of homelessness on survivors of torture and their chances of recovery. It’s time for this Government to stop scapegoating the vulnerable and to offer all those at risk of homelessness, including refugees, the safety and stability they need to rebuild their lives.”

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.”

The Big Issue is continuing to investigate this story. If you have been affected, or know more about this, get in touch with our journalist Greg Barradale by emailing greg.barradale@bigissue.com.

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