We must provide targeted support for homeless EU migrants if we are to end rough sleeping
The scale of homelessness and housing difficulties among EU citizens across Britain has become a growing concern.
Many of them made their home here, only to find themselves without one, often from entirely preventable circumstances.
The 31 of January this year marked two years since the UK’s exit from the European Union. This has had big implications for EU residents, and for attitudes towards immigration policy. Campaigning for more support for EU nationals is therefore challenging, but research shows that is exactly what we need to do if we are to end rough sleeping for all.
As chair of the APPG on Immigration Law & Policy, I have seen the difficulties experienced by many people who have come to Britain to work or connect with family firsthand. Many of the safety nets that most people can rely on should the worst happen, such as job loss or relationship breakdown, are simply not available to those whose origins lie elsewhere in the world.
EU nationals arriving in the UK may be subject to No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) if they are not joining a family member here. This means they will not be able to access benefits, tax credit or housing help.
People from EU countries living in Britain are nearly three times more likely to experience rough sleeping
The Work and Pensions Select Committee, which I chair, is examining the situation of families with NRPF, as part of our longer-term inquiry into children in poverty. One mother told us about being placed in temporary accommodation with her young child after being evicted, as she was unable to pay the rent. The house had no furniture at all, forcing her to order some through buy-now-pay-later schemes. Many migrant families with NRPF have faced acute housing insecurity in the pandemic.
Research from homelessness charity Crisis has revealed people from EU countries living in Britain are nearly three times more likely to experience rough sleeping than the general adult population and are twice as likely to experience homelessness overall because they struggle to access support.
According to the joint research project led by Heriot Watt University and IPPR, in March 2020, for people recently experiencing homelessness who are originally from EEA countries, 25 per cent had been unemployed. This increased to 52 per cent in the winter. For those recently experiencing rough sleeping, both job loss and financial difficulties were cited as the most frequent adverse experiences (51 per cent and 49 per cent).
Even when EU nationals managed to get a job, they were often afflicted by precarious employment circumstances and exploitation. Over a quarter of people (28 per cent) have to put up with unacceptable employment conditions such as working without a contract and having an abusive employer. It is not right that hard-working, law-abiding EU nationals should have to put up with this, being paid below the minimum wage or – in some cases – be left with no pay at all.
It is shocking to hear of the experiences of people who are coaxed into unpaid, illegal employment in return for some semblance of accommodation and food.
For those with recent experience of homelessness, nearly half had no income, with 87 per cent living below the standard poverty line, while just over half were on clearly inadequate income.
Worryingly, these people were not receiving any kind of welfare support to cover their most basic human needs. There is a clear need for greater levels of employment support for EU nationals, including around benefit access, language barriers and reaching the mainstream job market.
Crisis charity has called on the government to provide an estimated £32m in funding for long-term specialist support for EU nationals living in Britain experiencing rough sleeping, so people are not left facing homelessness with no route out.
Providing emergency accommodation and support in finding secure and properly paid employment will help to meet the urgent needs of thousands of people who are often left locked out of the usual avenues of advice. The policy package would also include a lead worker for every individual, tailored after successful pilots, and support such as training to find and sustain stable and properly paid employment, welfare and immigration advice and funding for interpreters.
If we want to end rough sleeping and homelessness for all we must tackle the specific barriers that each group faces. EU migrants are disproportionately affected by housing insecurity. The government must therefore address their specific needs – and that is why I’m backing this work.
Stephen Timms is the Labour MP for East Ham and chair of the Immigration Law and Policy APPG.
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