Baobab are proud to be part of the partnership that signed this solidarity statement calling out the lies that asylum seekers take social housing. Baobab know it's inaccurate and unfair to blame people fleeing war and persecution for the housing crisis in this country. Asylum seekers aren't entitled to social housing, they are not taking homes from anyone. They are given temporary asylum support housing while their cases wait for a decision. They are survivors and shouldn't be scapegoated for the lack of social housing in the UK - this is a problem created by our government selling off council properties and not building more homes.
Statement of Solidarity - Social Housing Not Scapegoating
Recently, Britain First, a far-right group, posted a series of videos on social media of their members entering hotels where they believe asylum seekers are being housed whilst they wait for the Home Office to process their applications. They harassed the people living there, and falsely blamed them for the housing emergency facing the country. The signatories of this statement condemn these actions and want to take this opportunity to set the record straight: our housing emergency is caused not by those fleeing persecution but by a chronic lack of social housing in our communities. In the videos members of the group can be seen entering the hotels without consent and banging on bedroom doors. They repeatedly harassed and interrogate the occupants, demanding to know which country they are from and if they have paid for the room. Without consent, Britain First, then published video footage showing the faces of asylum seekers, many of whom will have fled persecution, torture and wars. A female asylum seeker who was staying in one of the hotels, and supported by a local charity in Birmingham, said of Britain First: “They were banging on my door. I could hear shouting. I didn’t know what was happening. I’ve been left really traumatised by the incident and been told not to open my door or window. Serco hasn’t offered us any explanation or support”. In the video footage, Britain First repeatedly blame refugees for the housing emergency and make several false statements including that there are “thousands of homeless veterans dying on our streets”. This claim is wholly untrue. Shelter’s research showed that in 2019, 280,000 people were recorded as homeless in England. Most of these people were living in temporary accommodation, which includes homeless families living in emergency B&Bs and hostels rather than appropriate, stable housing. In a report by the West Midlands Combined Authority, entitled ‘Designing out Veterans’ Homelessness’ (2020), Stoll, a leading provider of supported housing to vulnerable veterans estimates ‘that veterans make up 3% of those accessing homeless services in England. This equates to over one thousand ex-service personnel classed as homeless.” In the same report, Stoll infer from their research, that of the 4, 677 people sleeping rough in England on a single night in autumn 2018, ‘140 of these were veterans’. We believe that even one homeless veteran is one too many, and nobody should be left without housing. In England, we do face a national housing emergency, but one caused by a failure from successive governments to build the social homes we need and not by asylum seekers or refugees. We, the undersigned, deplore the actions of Britain First. Instead of scapegoating vulnerable communities, we need tackle the root causes of homelessness. We are committed to ending homelessness amongst veterans and all members of society. It is for this reason that hundreds of thousands of individuals and organisations are campaigning for urgent investment in social housing.
Comments on the statement from signatories
Tracy Griffin, Interim CEO of The Big Issue Foundation, said: “The Big Issue exists to provide support to the most marginalised and vulnerable individuals in our society. We stand shoulder to shoulder with these organisations in fully condemning the repugnant victimisation of those have no other choice than to seek refuge from often war-torn and poverty-stricken countries. There is simply no excuse for such appalling behaviour, and it is entirely unjustified. Now, more than ever, we need to shine a light on the urgent need for increased levels of social housing and call on our Government to urgently review housing policy to address this shortage.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Our country is in the grip of a housing emergency that has been caused by the failure of successive governments to build the social homes we need. It has not been caused by refugees. We must call out the lies that certain groups tell in order to sow division between people and communities for their own ends. We must stand up to hate when we see it. This is especially true when we know we will only get the social homes we desperately need if we bring people together to show politicians of all parties that a safe home is as vital as health care or education. Shelter is committed to fighting for all people affected by the housing emergency.”
Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, Waheed Saleem, said: “Standing up for the marginalised and vulnerable is how we can ensure we create a just and fair society. We know we have a housing crisis in this country and these attempts by the far-right to use vulnerable people as an excuse to spout hate and raise tension in our communities won’t work. As people of Birmingham and the West Midlands we have written into our DNA the values of tolerance, respect and the want for everyone to be able to live a life without fear of persecution.”
Brian Carr, CEO of Birmingham Voluntary Sector Council, said: “The attempts to scapegoat and intimidate refugees and asylum seekers for the country’s housing emergency is abhorrent and driven by nothing other than bigotry and ignorance. Our energy must be put into growing the availability of social housing, supporting vulnerable people, and working together to unite, rather than divide, our communities.”
Nicki Norman, acting CEO of Women’s Aid Federation, said: “Women’s Aid stands in solidarity with those condemning Britain First’s harassment and racism towards asylum seekers. There are many reasons why asylum seekers have fled their country – including experiences of domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women - which is why it’s so concerning that they could be identified in the shocking recorded footage. It’s essential that asylum seekers can access their rights to safe and appropriate accommodation and investing in social housing is crucial to ensure this in the long term. “
Lee Barron, the Regional Secretary for TUC Midlands, said: “Those individuals who’ve attempted to scapegoat such vulnerable people for the housing crisis should be ashamed. It is true that we have a housing crisis. But that is a crisis of policy. A crisis of government. The chronic shortfall in social and affordable housing is a political choice. What we need is real action from political leaders to ensure all people to have a secure roof over their head.”
Also signing the statement, a housing project worker, said: “Having worked in housing for 30+ years, I have seen the loss of social housing through ‘Right To Buy’ & the failure of successive governments to replace on a like for like basis. Meanwhile private renting has become the norm but is so expensive and short term that it cannot provide stability security and affordability for thousands of households. It's time to go back to treating social housing as the norm and not demonising people on benefits, asylum seekers and students.”
A medical spokesperson from ‘The Collaborative Centre for Inclusion Health’ at University College of London, said: “We condemn without reservation the actions of the far-right to target vulnerable migrants. We challenge and condemn the narrative that migrants are in any way responsible for the current housing crisis. Political and societal structures have for too long led to the worsening of inequalities and disinvestment in social housing, resulting in the housing crisis we have today. We must all stand together as a society to protect the most vulnerable among us and to advocate for high-quality housing for all. “
For coverage in the Guardian see Nicola Taylors (@NicolaKelly) excellent article: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/oct/16/call-out-the-lies-uk-charities-hit-back-over-bids-to-blame-refugees-for-housing-crisis