Lack of accommodation a key element of proposed anti-destitution strategy

housing health homelessness stockMSPs are calling for a national strategy to alleviate the situation of hundreds of people with insecure immigration status in Scotland from becoming destitute.

Destitution is defined as not having adequate accommodation, or a way of finding it, or being unable to meet essential living needs. The situation often results in exploitation, ill health and misery.

A report issued yesterday by the Scottish Parliament’s equalities and human rights committee found immigration status to be a key aggravating factor leading to destitution as many of the avenues most people can use to find accommodation or social security are not available to those with ‘insecure’ immigration status. This group includes people trafficked to the UK, people whose right to be in the UK was linked to an ex-partner, and many in the asylum process.

The British Red Cross reported to the committee it had helped 820 destitute refugees and asylum seekers in 2016 in Scotland. The committee also heard directly from others facing destitution, including abused and trafficked women.

The committee is making a number of practical recommendations to improve the situation – from a call to allow asylum claims to be made in Scotland, rather than in Croydon or Liverpool – to proposing the creation of a Scottish anti-destitution strategy, bringing together all levels of government and the third sector to mitigate destitution.

Committee convener, Christina McKelvie MSP, said: “Our inquiry exposed a serious lack of compassion and humanity in the current system, which is leading hundreds to destitution. This is simply unacceptable.

“In spite of the best efforts of voluntary organisations and some in local government, there are huge gaps in the system that need to be addressed as a matter of priority.

“That’s why we are making both specific recommendations to all levels of government, and calling for a wider strategy to draw together all of the bodies who can improve this situation.

“With the ongoing refugee crisis and humanitarian problems around the world, this isn’t a problem likely to go away overnight. As a committee, we will keep an eye on progress, regularly checking improvement in the response to destitution.”

Other recommendations in the committee report include:

  • The creation of a new Scottish Government advocacy service for people with insecure immigration status.
  • The creation of a national coordinated practitioners’ network, which would include Scottish Government officials, representatives from health boards, local authorities, non-government organisations, third sector organisations, and legal practitioners.
  • The Scottish Government should examine the feasibility of extending the Free Bus Travel Scheme to allow destitute people with insecure immigration status to attend appointments.
  • Where clinicians consider an individual with insecure immigration status has an infectious disease that requires accommodation, this should be funded by the Scottish Government as a preventative measure.
  • The creation of a new ‘Destitution Fund’ by the Scottish Government for women experiencing Domestic Abuse unable to access other sources of help.
  • Update the COSLA/Local Authority guidance so that local authorities dealing with people with insecure immigration status are clear on help available.
  • Asylum seekers should have the right to do paid community work in Scotland – allowing for better integration opportunities, supporting asylum seekers’ mental and physical health, and the opportunity for asylum seekers to receive an income.
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