Serco and Asylum Seeker Lock-change Evictions

Part of Children’S Future Food Report – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 27th June 2019.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 4:15 pm, 27th June 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. I will express later in my speech the real views of local government, but he is correct that there are local authorities that were considering becoming part of the asylum dispersal process that are now minded not to do so as a result of what they are seeing in Glasgow, with Serco’s announcement of lock-change evictions.

There should never be anything inevitable about destitution, from any system of support—be that social housing, social security or asylum accommodation. The decade-long devaluation, underfunding and outsourcing of public service delivery of housing to women, men and children seeking refugee protection has been part of the wider austerity project that has penetrated deepest in communities of entrenched multiple deprivation across the United Kingdom, including Glasgow. We should always remember that it is these areas, however, that have consistently welcomed people seeking asylum through the Home Office’s asylum dispersal programme.

As a consequence, those communities, council areas and third sector services have been stepping up to help, as we have seen in Glasgow. That is despite their unfairly having the responsibilities and costs of helping people shunted on to them by two of the most powerful institutions in the UK—namely, the Home Office and multinational companies such as Serco, which enjoys profits of £30 million, which basically exist only to win public service contracts, especially from UK Government Departments in immigration and asylum, defence, transport and other spheres.

The Scottish Refugee Council has had to increase its destitution service provision and influencing and advocacy activities, and accelerate its work with key partners such as Positive Action in Housing, Shelter Scotland and JustRight Scotland, co-ordinating the charity and legal sector collaboration against these proposed evictions. It has met regularly since August 2018 to share information and take actions via litigation, legal policy and campaigning. Other members include the Legal Services Agency, Latta Law, Govan Law Centre, the British Red Cross, the Asylum Seeker Housing Project, the Refugee Survival Trust and, of course, the great Govan Community Project.

The Scottish Refugee Council considered the Immigration Minister’s descriptions of the situation in the 17 June letter that was issued to Members of Parliament for Glasgow constituencies, and it is the council’s strong view that there were inaccuracies in that letter, which I come to now. The Scottish Refugee Council recognised that the Home Office, through its advice contractor Migrant Help, has made efforts by letter and telephone to contact those at greater risk of evictions by lock-change notice since November 2018. However, these efforts stemmed largely from advocacy by Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Refugee Council to the Home Office, in the Glasgow asylum taskforce. Furthermore, the Scottish Refugee Council and other members of the taskforce persuaded the Home Office to initiate a support referral process. This was a pilot that comprised Migrant Help in Glasgow offering each individual at risk of eviction a one-and-a-half-hour appointment. The pilot had two phases: first, from November 2018 to January 2019, involving Migrant Help only; and secondly, from February 2019 to April 2019, after Migrant Help sought assistance from the Scottish Refugee Council.

The Scottish Refugee Council received 61 referrals from Migrant Help in the second phase of that process. That compares with 419 individuals assisted by Scottish Refugee Council destitution advisers from April 2018 to March 2019, 263 of whom were in Serco asylum accommodation. Through sustained funding from a charitable organisation and short-term resources from the Scottish Government, the Scottish Refugee Council has managed to stretch limited funds to prepare and lodge 120 applications for section 4 support, with 59% of those being successful—thereby lifting 72 individuals out of destitution or preventing them from falling into it. That has been achieved outside any Home Office support. I think that we would all want to continue to urge the Home Office, as the state party to the refugee convention and EU asylum legal instruments, urgently to provide resources that are genuinely commensurate with need, including the funding of independent advocacy support to help individuals in grave need.