The government has launched guidance on tackling poor conditions in the private rented sector but still seems confused as to whether migrants are victims or villains.
If I was a recent arrival to the UK, living in a shed with a bed in someone’s backyard, and a policeman jumped over the fence at 7.00 in the morning (see photo) I’d be pretty sure he’d come to get me. If he asked for my passport or a UKBA official was next over the fence, my worst fears would have been confirmed.
This is the fundamental problem with the government’s new initiative about dealing with ‘beds in sheds’. While the guide it launched last week mainly states the legal facts, it covers two completely separate issues – living conditions and immigration status. This was reflected in the early morning raid staged to launch the guidance. Ministers Damian Green and Grant Shapps joined Ealing Council and UKBA officials – and the police – in entering six properties in the borough, where they found 39 tenants and promptly arrested 19 of them.
Just imagine if a newly arrived migrant – let’s suppose it is someone from North America – were injured in a road accident and someone called an ambulance. Then instead of going to the hospital the ambulance took the victim to a police station to have her immigration status checked. I’m sure there would be an outcry. Yet this is directly comparable to what happened the other morning in Ealing. 39 people needed help in getting better accommodation, but instead half of them ended up in custody and no doubt the remainder were left feeling pretty scared.
It’s very true that (as Grant Shapps said) it’s ‘simply unacceptable that people are living in squalid, unsafe accommodation provided by landlords more interested in a quick profit rather then their basic responsibilities’. Indeed, the Housing and Migration Network recently pointed to the seriousness of the problem in their report on migrants in the private rented sector, and may have influenced the government’s action on it. What the network urged too, though, was the involvement of migrant communities and local support groups, so that any action would be in the best interests of the victims. The network also specifically asked the government not to combine two separate missions – tackling bad living conditions and dealing with illegal migrants – as the second would undermine the first.
Despite the early morning raid staged to launch the guidance, there is still the opportunity for councils to use the powers it sets out to take action against bad housing. This should be done. While the guidance recommends liaising with voluntary bodies that can provide temporary accommodation for tenants in danger of losing the roof over their heads, the action will also be far more effective if there is also liaison with groups that work with directly with migrants.
However, if the main objective of raids like that in Ealing is to tidy up an environmental problem and track down people who’ve overstayed their visas, let’s not pretend that they are for the benefit of the people living in appalling conditions.
Original post and comments: Migration Pulse