On Tuesday, in amongst all the Trump commotion, a report came out about the Compass Contract – the contract that the Home Office has with three Housing Providers: G4S, SERCO and ClearSprings to provide accommodation to asylum seekers whilst they go through the legal process of claiming asylum. This accommodation is across the UK and here in Gloucestershire, the provider is ClearSprings. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-38799694
A little history lesson for context. In 1997 the new government started, what became known as the Dispersal Policy. This was a move to encourage local authorities across the UK to support asylum seekers within their communities away from the concentration in the South East of England.
Until 2002 this support was provided through the local Social Services and financial support was calculated at 70% of Income Support. In 2002 NASS was born – the National Asylum Support System. This moved the care from social services responsibility to the Home Office who subcontracted this to a number of different suppliers, frequently Local Authority Housing remained in use, in particular in the north of England and in Glasgow where large numbers of people were housed.
Here in the South West of England Gloucester, Swindon, Bristol and Plymouth (originally Exeter as well) were Dispersal areas and from 2002 ClearSprings was the provider of the accommodation.
So that is the background!
Over the past 15 years, clients have been Dispersed to Gloucester predominately from Cardiff as the Regional Hub for Home Office reasons. (Previous to arrival, people will have been housed temporarily in very basic accommodation in Cardiff.) The individuals and families who come to Gloucester have no choice where they come to live or with whom they will live. Properties are single sex or for families to share, there is now no consideration of faith, nationality or ethnicity.
As contracts have been renewed funds have got tighter and numbers grown and the turn over periods have got ever shorter. In this last round, the Local Authorities pulled out and G4S and SERCO took on the other areas of the country.
So what is our experience for our clients?
Properties have become increasingly grim over the years. The rapid turnover and lack of care has meant they are more more depressing. When a client moves out, the rooms are supposed to be cleaned but that is pretty flimsy. Even when there is a complete change of household there is no deep clean and I am not aware of a property being redecorated or refurbished or re-carpeted in many many years. Therefore each property gets sadder and sadder, scruffier and scruffier.
At the last contract there was no requirement to provide vacuum cleaners and that has made care of the properties very difficult for the occupants. Over the years most of the clients I have met want to take some pride in their homes but how can you when you don’t have the facility to keep them clean?
And then like any student accommodation there are the challenges of sharing Kitchens – who does the washing up? Who buys the milk?
So yes – mice, rats and bedbugs are a regular problem – see BBC link above.
And when boilers don’t work it takes weeks to get them fixed.
So imagine how that feels when you have travelled here to find safety and you think you will have somewhere to live at last in this city you know nothing about, you get shown into a house that is grubby and unloved? And you may even have to share a bedroom with someone you can’t even communicate with? How do you feel?
Why not contact your MP and ask them to include vacuum cleaners in the next COMPASS contract so asylum seekers can have some dignity and self respect? (& This may lead to fewer rats in the property.)