Rough sleepers could ignore life-saving services, for fear of deportation

A rough sleeper in the West End of London. Image: Getty.

As the UK was hit by snow and freezing temperatures in early March, more beds in shelters were made available, and people in England and Wales were advised to use the StreetLink app and helpline to report rough sleepers. The project sets out to ensure that no one in a wealthy country dies of cold because they have nowhere appropriate to sleep.

But this is overshadowed by reports of Home Office immigration, compliance and enforcement (ICE) teams seeking out rough sleepers without a recognised claim to be in the UK for detention and deportation, alongside homelessness charity outreach teams. This raises important issues about the relationship between border policies and the treatment of people who are already in the UK, and about access to basic human rights.

A long history

This story starts back in 2015, when the House of Commons heard about Operation Adoze – a pilot scheme by the Home Office to deport non-UK citizens from the European Economic Area (EEA) sleeping rough in London. Guidance notes clarifying the regulations on the administrative removal of non-UK-EEA-citizens drew concern from homelessness advocates and lawyers, for identifying rough sleeping as an “abuse” (in May 2016) and later a “misuse” (in February 2017) of the EU’s right to free movement.

Throughout 2016, a round-up of rough sleepers in London is reported to have taken place with the cooperation of outreach teams from homelessness charities, which allegedly passed information about non-UK-citizens who were sleeping rough to the Home Office, leading to detentions and deportations. During this time, charities’ data were also reportedly being used for Home Office mapping. Similar stories have emerged as far afield as Bristol, Brighton and Cardiff.

Finally, in December 2017, the High Court ruled that the round up and deportation of non-UK-EEA-citizen rough sleepers was unlawful, as rough sleeping was not an abuse or misuse of EU free movement. But this story is not only about EU free movement rights. It is about the relationship between the right to life-saving shelter, and migration enforcement.

Desperate and destitute

The snowfall which recently covered parts of the UK served up a stark reminder that access to adequate housing is a basic human right, which can save lives. Now, more than ever, it is clear that access to adequate housing must be decoupled from migration enforcement, to move away from an environment in which destitution, administrative detention and deportation are contributing to a hostile environment for non-UK-citizens, without legal process.

For example, hunger strikers in Yarl’s Wood detention centre were recently informed by the Home Office that they risk being deported sooner if they continued to protest.

Some might argue that if Home Office officials can assess individuals’ cases, those with a genuine claim to remain in the country will be fine; only the nefarious will be removed. But even if things did work this way, it would raise two problems. It implies that the right to life is dependent on a person’s paperwork, and not their humanity. And it doesn’t make provision for those who are scared and unwilling to risk seeking help.

What’s more, as a result of drawn-out and unfair asylum decisions (a third are reversed if they get to appeal), administrative issues and inappropriate housing, migrants can be left destitute through their engagement with the Home Office. Ill-considered migration control measures could prevent the most vulnerable from seeking help, and undermine the work of organisations that have been serving rough sleepers for decades. It has been suggested that cooperating with the Home Office undermines the integrity of those homelessness organisations, which try to give their service users a voice and a platform to challenge government policies.

Out of sight, out of mind?

This is all part of the changing reality of how homeless people of all nationalities are treated across the UK. Greater numbers of people are becoming homeless, while some police forces and local authorities are taking tough stances against people begging and sleeping rough, purporting to crack down on the “fake homeless” and arguing that homelessness is a choice, without acknowledging how “choices” are affected by the range of options on offer.

Homelessness charity Crisis has warned: “If it is true that people are avoiding help from outreach teams for fear of encountering the Home Office, then these people will become more vulnerable, not less.”

In this hostile climate, it’s important to ask national and local charities and shelters for clarity on their policies relating to immigrant rough sleepers and to raise wider questions about the domain of migration enforcement. Organisations like Red Cross and Praxis offer specialist services for migrants, along with many others. Information about them can be found online.

It’s also important to ask a rough sleeper what sort of support they’d find helpful. This might involve helping them call a shelter, letting them know about local specialist support, or buying some food, gloves or a hot drink.

The truth is, in the UK today, there are pitifully few options for destitute non-UK-citizens – some of whom have been cut off from both work and welfare, and left with no alternative. Looking beyond immediate measures, it’s crucial to decouple shelter and other basic goods from migration control, and to critique policies that increase destitution – irrespective of citizenship.

The ConversationThere’s also a discomforting possibility that the appeal of Streetlink’s simple app comes from a twin desire to save homeless people, and to hide them from view. Seeing someone sleeping in the snow raises uncomfortable questions about British society today which must be acknowledged – then addressed head-on. It’s not enough to send a text and continue walking.

The UK is a democracy. Its policies rely on the taxes and mandate of the electorate. If enough people make it clear that these injustices cannot continue, the government will put a stop to them.

Tendayi Bloom, Lecturer in Politics and International Studies, The Open University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.


Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.