Month: November 2018

More than 1,000 people become homeless every month, figures reveal

The number of homeless people in the UK is soaring by a rate of more than 1,000 a month, according to new analysis which says that one in 200 Britons are now without a permanent place to live.

The figures, which show that 320,000 people are currently known to be sleeping on the streets or stuck in temporary accommodation, highlight the depths of the country’s housing crisis, despite repeated government pledges to get to grips with the problem.

Opposition politicians and campaigners said it was “unforgivable” that so many people had been swept up by the housing crisis and attributed the rise to spiralling rents, welfare cuts and a lack of social housing.

The new data from Shelter, which combines official rough sleeping, temporary accommodation and social services figures, shows the total number of homeless people has increased by 13,000 in the last year and by more than 25,000 in the past two years.

London reported the highest levels of homelessness, with almost 170,000 people, or one in 52, without a place to call home. Cities outside the capital were also disproportionately affected, with the figure standing at one in 67 in Brighton, one in 73 in Birmingham and one in 135 in Manchester.

Homelessness dropped substantially between the late Nineties and 2010, but has been rising since the Conservatives came into power, despite repeated promises from ministers to reduce rough sleeping and build more affordable housing.

The new figures come days after the United Nations condemned the British government’s “punitive, mean-spirited and often callous” treatment of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable, saying policies and drastic cuts to social support were entrenching high levels of poverty and homelessness.

Telli Afrik, in his thirties, lives in a hostel in Waltham Forest with his wife and two children aged three and five after the family stopped being able to afford their privately rented home – despite working. They are now in their sixth hostel.

“At first, we were fortunate because we went to live with my aunt. But not long after we moved in, she died of a heart attack and the council took the house back. We were made homeless instantly. I sobbed that night, all of us were in tears,” said Mr Afrik.

“Our current hostel is so cramped and everyone’s competing for space. My family all sleep in one room and we eat our meals on the floor because we don’t have a table. There are two bathrooms but one isn’t in good shape. It’s hard to bathe. It’s just very tough.

“Financially we’ve been brought to nothing. My confidence – nothing. My family is at breaking point.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It’s unforgivable that 320,000 people in Britain have been swept up by the housing crisis and now have no place to call home.

“Due to the perfect storm of spiralling rents, welfare cuts and a total lack of social housing, record numbers of people are sleeping out on the streets or stuck in the cramped confines of a hostel room.”

It recently emerged that more than 100,000 households had been stuck on council housing waiting lists for more than 10 years, as the declining number of homes saw families forced into poor and overcrowded temporary accommodation or paying unaffordable rents.

Responding to the findings, shadow housing minister Melanie Onn MP said: “It is appalling that enough people to fill a city the size of Newcastle will wake up this Christmas without a home.

“This is the outcome of eight years of austerity that even the United Nations say was designed to hurt the poor. The Tories’ universal credit scheme is pushing people into rent arrears and making the problem worse.”

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said people were being “swept into destitution or homelessness” due to a lack of support in the benefit system and a failure to build enough low-cost rented homes.

“Without a permanent home, it is almost impossible for people to build a better life for themselves or their families,” he said.

“That’s not right – but we can fix it. We should start by building the 80,000 affordable homes a year this country so badly needs.”

Matthew Geer, campaign manager at Turn2us, which helps people in financial hardship to access charitable grants and support services, said low wages, frozen benefits, high rents and a lack of affordable housing were to blame for the crisis.

“It is outrageous that homelessness figures are still rising across the country. There should be no place for rough sleeping, hostel hopping or raising your children in a B&B in 21st century Britain,” he added.

“Action needs to be taken quickly to end homelessness and the detrimental effects that homelessness has on physical and mental health.”

Secretary of state for communities James Brokenshire said the government was investing more than £1.2bn to tackle all forms of homelessness, and that a new law required councils to support people sooner to help prevent them becoming homeless in the first place.



Home Office told one woman to seek charity help to feed her child while waiting for news

Windrush citizens who have had their lives turned upside down by a harsh government policy that wrongly targeted them over their immigration status are still waiting for their cases to be resolved, despite a government pledge to process them in two weeks.

Dozens of those referred to the Windrush taskforce have yet to receive news about their citizenship and biometric residence permits.

One man is still homeless, living hand-to-mouth while he awaits news. One woman, a former NHS nurse who is facing deportation, was told to seek charity help to feed her child while she waits for her case to be examined.

Gavin Cowings, a caseworker for David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, said: “We have referred 25 constituents to the Windrush taskforce in total. Only three have been granted their citizenship so far, and the others are left in a strange limbo … We still have some people who have not even got biometric residence permits and we alerted the Home Office to these people months ago.”

Cowings said one man, who has asked to remain anonymous, came to the UK from Jamaica in 1976 and was arrested in May when he went to get his biometric card at Lunar House, Croydon, the Home Office visas and immigration headquarters.

“He spent about 12 weeks in prison but eventually charges were dropped. He has now been released and still does not have a biometric card. He is in limbo and has no access to benefits. He is still homeless, although hopefully next week he will get some sort of housing. But in terms of his immigration status he has no legal right at all to stay,” Cowings said.

In a recording of her phone call with a caseworker passed to the Independent, Vitalis says: “Is there any way I can apply to work while they’re waiting for their appeal? I am not allowed to work, I have no benefits. I have a 12-year-old child.”

The caseworker responded: “Well I’m afraid these are the immigration rules, so you’ll have to get some advice from somebody, but obviously the Home Office point of view [is] if you don’t have a legal status in the UK you’re not entitled to work or study.”

Satbir Singh, the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, told the Independent this advice “wasn’t just callous, it was also completely wrong”.

“It’s appalling that the Home Office effectively told Sharon to go and beg for food, when there are laws requiring the state to act in the best interests of children, and provide financial support to children facing destitution.”

The delays are adding to growing concern over how the Home Office has responded to the Windrush crisis, in which people who arrived from the Caribbean between the late 1940s and early 1970s were routinely targeted by immigration officials.

Diane Abbottthe shadow home secretary, described the delays as “completely unacceptable”.

She said: “From the Windrush scandal to immigration detention, to these outrageous delays – it is long past time that the government takes responsibility for leaving people distressed and destitute.”

Lammy wrote to the home secretary, Sajid Javid, last month to say he had been contacted by a constituent who had waited 10 weeks to begin the citizenship process.

“It is outrageous that those who have been failed by the Home Office should be failed once more by the very scheme designed to correct historical wrongs; it is morally repugnant that more than two months after the former home secretary made her statement to the House of Commons, members of the Windrush generation find themselves anxiously waiting for nothing more than recognition of their rightful status,” said Lammy.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The experiences faced by some members of the Windrush generation are inexcusable and it is clear that we must do what is needed to ensure that nothing like this happens again. The home secretary has said that it is his top priority to right the wrongs that have occurred.

“Our taskforce is helping [to ensure] those who have struggled to demonstrate their right to be here are supported to do so and we have committed to setting up a compensation scheme.”



‘Hostile environment’ has left couples with one non-EU partner facing discrimination, delays and huge bills

On 17 December last year, Paige Smith stood on a bridge above a road in north London. “I don’t remember too much, just standing there, looking over the edge, thinking ‘I’m just going to jump’, but then two police officers – I don’t know where they came from – managed to talk me down.”

Smith, 24, had been left suicidal by the Kafkaesque nightmare in which she and her Albanian fiance, Fatjon Ballmi, 23, had found themselves since becoming engaged.

Last September, having been together for nearly three years, they applied for a fiance visa for Ballmi but, two months later, the Home Office refused, stating, incorrectly, that Smith did not meet the £18,600 income thresholdnecessary to bring her partner into the country, a requirement introduced in 2012 by Theresa May, who was then home secretary.

The Home Office had lost a crucial payslip proving that Smith met the criteria. “The payslip was sent to them four times including from my solicitor and MP. The joke of it is they had my bank statements and access to HMRC to see how much I get paid.”

An appeal judge took less than 10 minutes in June to rule that the visa should be issued. The Home Office took another two months to confirm that it would not appeal.

“Everyone says ‘you’re a British citizen so you’ll have no problem’ when actually you do. But I’m yet to meet a British citizen who has an Albanian spouse who hasn’t had a problem. I think certain nationalities are extremely discriminated against when it comes to getting a visa. I guess it’s part of the hostile environment. I know mistakes happen and it’s a big government department but it seems to be happening far too often.”

Smith is one of about 1,000 members on the Reuniting Families Facebook page who can testify to the problems tens of thousands of British nationals are experiencing when trying to bring their non-EU spouses and dependants into the UK.

“Mothers, fathers, husbands and wives are being torn apart because the Home Office doesn’t treat them as people with individual circumstances and needs,” said Ciaran Price of the Migrants Resource Centre. “It doesn’t seem to matter if your family has lived here for many years, or you have a seriously ill child, or, like 40% of the population, you don’t have a secure job that pays well enough to let you marry the person you fell in love with.”

In January, Becky Darmon, 22, a British citizen from Norfolk, applied for her Moroccan fiance, Abderrahman Belafi, 26, an English language teacher, to come over on a tourist visa so he could be at the birth of their daughter, Alia.“I had over £5,000 in the bank to support him and we’d booked the return flight,” Darmon said. “I know they say not to but if you don’t they say there’s no proof he’s going home.”

Their application was rejected when Darmon was 33 weeks pregnant. “They said there was no proof he could afford the flight back home, even though we’d given them the ticket.”

What little Belafi has seen of his daughter, born two weeks early after an emergency C-section and with very low iron levels that have resulted in her being subjected to blood transfusions, is via his phone.

Darmon, who cannot juggle a job and care for her sick child, said: “To get her daddy over I need to be working 40-plus hours a week. But then, she’s not only going to have her daddy in Morocco, she’s going to have me at work all day so she’ll be left with a stranger. How’s that in the best interest of our child?”

Troy Gent, 45, a British citizen who manages an engineering firm, has been married to Louise, 43, a South African, for 23 years. They have a daughter, Chelsy, 18, and a son Cadin, 13. The family, who live in Cheshire, has been waiting for three years to be granted permanent residency. “We could understand if we’d overstayed, but Louise and the kids came here on a settlement visa,” Gent said. “We didn’t hide the fact we wanted to make the UK our permanent residency.”

Initially, the couple filled in the wrong application form. However, they made three separate applications using the correct form and have spent more than £20,000 in legal bills and visa fees. “It’s become quite apparent that the Home Office is discriminating against British citizens that are married to foreigners,” Gent said.

Since then the Home Office has held on to Brian’s passport, meaning he cannot return to the US. Benjamin, having outstayed his US visa, something that carries an automatic 10-year ban, cannot return to the US either. They estimate they have spent up to £12,000 in fees and lawyers’ bills trying to resolve the impasse. “We’re both on antidepressants,” Brian said. “It’s almost like they’re trying to make us destitute.”

A Home Office spokesman said several factors were considered when setting fees. “All UK visa applications are considered on their individual merits and in line with UK immigration rules,” he said.