Refugee and Asylum Seeker Accommodation

Home Department – in the House of Commons at on 18 September 2023.

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Photo of Kate Osamor Kate Osamor Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to ensure an adequate standard of accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers.

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The asylum accommodation support contracts ensure the provision of safe, habitable, fit-for-purpose and correctly equipped accommodation for destitute asylum seekers. The contracts also require compliance with the law, local authority licensing and best practice guidance. We have been working with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to minimise the potential impact on homelessness, and have agreed an asylum placement funding for local authorities.

Photo of Kate Osamor Kate Osamor Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

We hear the Government talking about £6 million per day being wasted on hotels, but we do not hear about the billions being forked out on private companies such as Serco and Clearsprings Ready Homes, both of which have seen scores of complaints, including about unsanitary conditions, a lack of safeguarding, and sexual abuse. Does the Home Secretary think that it is appropriate to entrust those companies with taxpayers’ money to run asylum accommodation in hotels and former Ministry of Defence sites?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The safety and wellbeing of asylum seekers in our care is of paramount importance at the Home Office. We expect high standards from all our providers, and we have robust governance frameworks in place to manage the service delivery of asylum accommodation. What we definitely do not do, and do not propose to do, is willingly accept thousands more illegal migrants into the UK from the EU, housed presumably in more hotels across the country, as Labour is proposing. I campaigned for Brexit to take back control of our borders, not for Labour to surrender our sovereignty to the EU.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

One of the justifications for using service accommodation such as RAF Scampton was that it was supposed to be cheaper, but we now know the figures: it is more expensive over two years, and over three years the savings are absolutely derisory. The figures are, frankly, being fiddled by overcapitalising the value of the base, and are not based on surveys. The Home Secretary’s officials are now ripping out services. The council has issued a stop order on it. I give notice that I will report the Home Office to the Comptroller and Auditor General for misapplying and wasting public money, because using the base will cost more than hotels. The base is Crown land, so the local authority cannot enter it. Does she accept that she would be acting illegally and is liable to be sued if her officials disobey the stop order?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have had several discussions with my right hon. Friend about the proposed asylum accommodation at Scampton. I thank him for his very energetic campaigning on behalf of his constituents. I very much appreciate the challenges that this nationwide mission poses for us all. I do not agree with his assessment; we have assessed the proposal at Scampton to be value for money. Ultimately, it is not right that we continue to house tens of thousands of migrants in hotels, in towns and cities across the country, costing the taxpayer £6 million a day. That is why our work to roll out large sites is moving swiftly, and we propose to move asylum seekers on to them as soon as possible.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

It has been more than a month since all 39 asylum seekers were hauled off the 500-capacity Bibby Stockholm because of the detection of legionella, but the Home Secretary is yet to give a date for when the barge will actually be ready for use. We still do not know why she chose not to wait for the legionella results before ploughing ahead, and why her Minister was so slow to act once the results came in. We are still yet to hear a denial from the Home Secretary that it is one of the most lethal strains of the bacteria, as reported in the media. Today, will she set out her responses to those questions and confirm the exact cost of the barge? Half a million pounds per month to house zero asylum seekers on this floating symbol of failure feels utterly extortionate. Why is it that the only boat this Government have managed to stop is their own?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am somewhat surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s change of tune: he is on the record in the media as supporting our use of the barge, so a change of heart is welcome. We have assessed the barge—it has been under constant scrutiny—and we will be re-embarking people on to that barge as soon as is practical and possible. What is clear is that the hon. Gentleman simply has no answers for how to solve the broader problem. The truth is that Labour’s policy has not survived contact with reality: it has been denounced by the EU, its shadow Ministers are making it up as they go along, and the leader has had to backtrack—and it has not even been a week. Only the Conservative party has a plan that is based on reality, deterrence and delivery, and it will stop the boats.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

OpenDemocracy recently revealed the extent of self-harm and suicide in immigration removal centres—in particular, Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, where 24 self-harm incidents occurred in March, which is more than over the three previous months combined. Emma Ginn, director of Medical Justice, has said:

“We are not confident that the Home Office considers the value of the lives of those in its care in detention as fully human.”

What is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that those in Home Office immigration removal centres do not face such desperate circumstances that they seek to take their own lives?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I said, the safety of all of those in our care is a priority for the Home Office, and the standard of habitation—whether that is in our asylum accommodation estate more broadly, or specifically in our immigration removal centres—is one that always, as far as the law requires, meets high standards. Those standards are rigorously scrutinised and monitored, and those who have concerns have avenues to make complaints via the migrant helpline.