The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, today stands with councils and civil society groups from across London and the UK urging the Government to scrap ‘deeply immoral’ plans to remove rough sleeping migrants from the UK simply for not having a home.
In a letter to the Home Secretary Priti Patel and Housing Minister Robert Jenrick, signed by 27 representatives of local authorities and London-based charities, Sadiq criticises new immigration rules announced recently by the Home Office. Under this legislation, set to be introduced before the end of the Brexit transition period, migrant rough sleepers could have their leave to remain cancelled or refused, resulting in them being deported.
These measures will deter already vulnerable people from seeking help in rebuilding their lives off the street and put them at greater risk of exploitation and infection from Covid-19.
The Mayor also speaks up for the rights of some of the most vulnerable Londoners: homeless non-UK nationals with limited access to mainstream support. This inability to access state support makes them more vulnerable to destitution and it makes it incredibly difficult for those who have lost their homes and livelihoods, some as a result of Covid-19, to find a path off the streets and into secure accommodation.
In London it is thought that up to 60 per cent of people sleeping rough may be in this situation, meaning the homelessness crisis can never truly be solved while these inequalities and restrictive hostile policies exist.
The signatories to the Mayor’s letter, including Crisis, Housing Justice and Migrants’ Rights Network, point out that while City Hall, charities and councils carried out unprecedented work as part of the ‘Everyone In’ programme at the start of the pandemic, the Covid-19 crisis has placed extreme pressure on already-stretched resources. Local authorities cannot afford to accommodate non-UK nationals with no or limited entitlements on an indefinite basis and charities are operating at reduced capacity.
Measures taken as part of the ‘Everyone In’ programme resulted in very low Covid-19 infection rates amongst homeless people in London. Without additional measures that allow all those unable to self-isolate, including all non-UK nationals, to access appropriate support, there is a real risk that we will see soaring Covid-19 infection rates among homeless people spreading to the wider community as a result.
The letter sets out five key proposals to alleviate the coming crisis:
- Scrap plans for rough sleeping to become grounds for refusal or cancellation of permission to be in the UK.
- Suspend all immigration-based exclusions from welfare and homelessness assistance to adapt to these exceptional times.
- Take action to prevent European Londoners from becoming undocumented by extending the deadline to apply for settled status.
- Take all necessary measures to avoid pushing refugees and asylum seekers into homelessness.
- Properly fund self-contained, COVID-secure accommodation which we know is the safest way to protect those who would otherwise be sleeping rough from both the pandemic and the winter weather.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said, “The injustice and cruelty exhibited by the proposed new immigration laws is a chilling reminder of how the most vulnerable people in our society can be targeted when those in power don’t believe anyone will notice or care.
“I’m proud to stand with the signatories of this letter in telling ministers that we do care and we will not let those without a voice be quietly removed from our city and deported simply for finding themselves homeless.
“It is not too late for the Government to act and show some compassion that is desperately needed in these difficult times.”
Kathy Mohan, OBE, CEO of Housing Justice said, “Faith based and grassroots night shelters are a key area of support for foreign nationals experiencing rough sleeping.
“These organisations and the community groups, churches, mosques and synagogues who support them will be deeply concerned at reports that rough sleeping could be grounds for removal from the UK for foreign nationals.
“This risks making some of the most vulnerable even more so, at a time of national crisis and needs to be reconsidered immediately”
Rick Henderson, Chief Executive of Homeless Link said, “We support the united call to reverse these counterproductive plans. The new rules will not help to end rough sleeping, but only serve to dehumanise and criminalise people for not having a place to call home. As has happened with similar policies in the past, the rules risk undermining trust in our members, homeless charities providing vital support during difficult times, and cause people to avoid seeking help in the first place.
“They will affect a spectrum of people, living in this country for a range of reasons, with victims of modern slavery particularly susceptible.
“If the Government is truly committed to ending rough sleeping, they should focus instead on working with us and our members to address the root causes of homelessness and provide the range of support that people need.”
Jun Pang, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty, said: “The Government’s determination to pursue and expand the Hostile Environment is putting ever more people at risk.
“If you become homeless, you should be able to ask for the help you are due, regardless of your legal status. You should not have to fear that you will be detained and deported if you do so.
“It should go without saying that during the winter of a deadly pandemic, it is even more dangerous and punishing to cut people off from any avenue of support, and risks forming part of this public health crisis.
“The Government must scrap these proposals, end the toxic Hostile Environment, and ensure that our homelessness strategy helps everyone.”