It’s been revealed by Home Secretary Priti Patel that she plans to crack down on deporting migrant rough sleepers once the UK officially leaves the EU.
Patel plans to grant the Home Office special powers to deport any EU national in the UK classed as homeless if it is found they are refusing help offered by charities to rehouse them.
She aims to streamline deportation by making sure that those who commit minor crimes such as ‘aggressive begging’ (the criminal term for asking people for money) will be deported, despite these low-level crimes not usually being grounds for deportation.
Rough sleepers of EU origin are nothing new to the UK. In 1989 London saw a surge of migrants finding themselves sleeping rough due to lack of affordable housing.
The then Conservative led government tried to ignore the growing population of approximately 1000 men and women sleeping rough on the London streets.
Once Margaret Thatcher left government, a number of Rough Sleeper initiatives were brought into the country spanning across the 90s being spurred by both the Labour and Tory parties respectively.
However, the relationship between government policy on migration, housing, and homelessness was still being ignored.
Now, with approximately 80,000 rough sleepers holding migrant status, 22% of which are from the EU, the connection can no longer be ignored by those responsible for alleviating the situation of those who will be affected by the new powers to be granted to the Home Office.
Misconceptions on homelessness
Patel has made a mistake in her judgment of homeless people who refuse aid from charities. It’s uncommon for rough sleepers to ‘enjoy’ being homeless as she infers.
Homeless charities like Shelter are being forced to work with dwindling resources due to a lack of government funding.
Just this year, Shelter reported an increase of expenditure from over £62m in 2017 to £68m in 2019. However, homelessness in the UK has increased by 165% since the Conservatives came into government in 2010.
It’s been documented by a number of rough sleepers that hostels are often more dangerous than sleeping on the street. From rat-infested rooms and dangerous neighbours, it can be preferable to stay away from such accommodations and find other ways to survive.
The government and local councils alike often treat homeless people as a nuisance and prefer to do very little to support them. As recent as last year it was discovered that some of the local councils with the highest homeless population didn’t officially record their deaths.
Misconceptions about why people are homeless can be linked to the Tory’s and councils’ reasoning when it comes to tackling homelessness.
James Brokenshire, the former Communities Secretary, claimed that the rise in homelessness was due to drug addiction, family breakdown and LGBT teenagers being kicked out by homophobic relatives.
While Brokenshire’s claims are outlandish, they are unfortunately common in the public eye. The issue of what causes homelessness is far more complex and each case is different, but the overarching common denominator in all these cases is the government’s constant funding cuts to housing initiatives which otherwise would avoid people in these situations sleeping rough in the first place.
How safe are EU nationals in the UK?
The issue of EU national status in the UK has been a focal point of the Brexit debate since before the referendum results were even announced.
Ministers and other officials have argued that not enough has been done by the government to protect the status of EU nationals in the UK. The government has provided assurances that the status of EU nationals won’t change
In October, the Conservative Party voted down reforms to the Immigration Bill which would have solidified the status of EU citizens in the UK by allowing them to carry physical proof of said status, preventing them from any accidental deportation issues.
However, this reform seemed to peer over the status of rough sleepers with EU status. Throughout the debate in Parliament discussing the reforms, no mention was made if migrant rough sleepers would be eligible to have proof of status in this country. This is most likely due to the fact that migrants without a fixed address are encouraged to move back to their own country by Immigration services where it could be less safe for them.
Could these powers be abused?
Patel has stated the special powers will be used: “very sparingly and only as a last resort.” However, no definitive proof of this will be seen until the powers are already in place and being enforced.
Can rough sleepers be legally deported?
In a legal case of deportation where the defendant has been tried and charged, could the court recommend them for deportation? A court can only do this with an offence punishable by imprisonment.
Aggressive begging is not usually an offense that leads to imprisonment. Homeless people arrested under this charge are usually given orders banning them from certain areas where they can’t target the general public for money.
The Home Office is evidently using anti-homeless rhetoric to demonise the homeless population while giving the government and local councils an alternative to helping rough sleepers. They will now have an excuse not to invest resources in providing the help needed to effectively and humanely reduce the homeless population.
These special powers will make it too easy for the Home office to brush the issue of a rising homeless population under the carpet and ignore the conditions that lead to people becoming homeless.
Conditions such as a rapidly declining and unstable economy that stops people in need of welfare getting access to help they desperately need. A habit of wasteful spending of resources from a government that borders on cronyism leaving gaps in the welfare system where they could be put to better use.
All this effectively denies rough sleepers the chance of a better life by stripping away their opportunity to make the changes they need to get off the streets and be in a safe environment.
“Kieran Isgin writes for immigrationnews.co.uk. This is a media platform that helps to raise awareness about migrant injustices and news around the world.”