“Most refugees sent to the poorest parts of the UK” (Front page headline, 10 April). Here are suggested headlines for the remainder of the week: “Lowest life expectancy in the poorest parts of the UK”; “Proportionately highest levels of indirect taxation…”; “Worst maintained private and public housing…”; “Highest levels of prescription drugs…”; “Highest attendance at A&E departments...”; “Least investment in schools…”; “Highest number incarcerated…”; and more.
Condescending notions such as “responsibilisation” are used to deflect the political, economic, structural dynamics and suffering of poverty. Zero-hours contracts are recast as “flexible and adaptive working”; low-waged health support workers are declined travel time; part-time contracts without holiday pay or security underpin; essential services are cut to the bone. The list is endless.
On estates of poverty-induced resentment, the comparatively few refugees and asylum seekers entering Britain are warehoused and managed by private, profit-driven companies with, at best, questionable track records – G4S and Serco to name but two. The lack of coherent, integrated, humanitarian policies and interventions is the outworking of inadequately funded public authorities, reflecting a cynical and divisive betrayal by central government of those most in need, whether citizens, refugees or asylum seekers.
Professor Phil Scraton
School of Law, Queen’s University, Belfast
• I was saddened but not surprised by your front page. An asylum seeker living with me has told me how he was initially sent to a hostel in Manchester after his arrival in Kent, but when he put in his asylum application, he was transferred to a house in a remote suburb of Liverpool. Unable to afford public transport, he had to walk for an hour or more to shops or to meet people: “it was like being in prison,” he says.
The charities I have been in contact with tell me there are enough potential hosts to house all the asylum seekers they are dealing with, but they lack the resources to assess their suitability. Why can’t the government work with these charities to enable more asylum seekers to be housed with people who are keen to help them learn English and find out more about life in the UK?
• Yvette Cooper and the home affairs select committee are absolutely right to criticise the government’s policy on asylum seekers, and in particular its reliance on private sector providers of accommodation. In Newcastle some years ago, one such provider housed Iranian and Iraqi refugees in the same premises. More recently, the change from the provision of accommodation and support by Your Homes Newcastle (a public sector body leading management of the issue in the north-east) to G4S and its subcontractor Jomast, coupled with a reduction in funding, has effectively led to the disappearance of support services.
Treating the issue as a matter of housing alone is unsatisfactory, both for the asylum seekers and refugees and for the other residents of what tend to be the most disadvantaged areas of towns and cities in the least prosperous parts of the country.
Labour, House of Lords
• Your front page says the home affairs select committee is calling for changes to the “appalling” system of sending these hapless people to the poorest parts of the country. Since government policy for their dispersal has been framed around the inability and unwillingness of local councils to provide education, health and other services for them, the outcome of location in impoverished ghettoes is inevitable. These same blanket policies mean that private hospitality, widely and generously offered, is effectively prevented from being taken up. Thus a Kindertransport scheme was made impossible.
Keith Vaz, as its previous chairman, presided over a select committee on the Shaw report, which highlighted many of the shortcomings in government policy but was kicked into the long grass.
The Home Office claims the UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection. We now seem to be at the end of history.
• Zoe Stewart (Passport checks for patients is an abandonment of NHS principles, theguardian.com, 7 April) is right to say that health tourism costs the NHS a relatively small amount (0.3% of a £130bn annual budget or some £330m). That is still the cost of a new hospital, so not insignificant, but she misses the bigger issue entirely.
The NHS, social housing and all of our public infrastructure were built by previous generations, out of their taxes, with an expectation that not only they but their descendants would benefit. The reason that “health tourism” sticks in the craw is that it breaks the implicit promise of “social goods” being passed on from generation to generation. People do have a sense of ownership over great public enterprises, and with that there is resentment of newcomers who are perceived as not having contributed to the development of the “common weal”, and who are then perceived as taking their jobs, houses and healthcare.
Proclaiming the “universality” of rights or benefits, while attractive as a principle, only really works in stable, homogenous societies. Immigration, of any variety, can dent that sense of communal solidarity, and hence “cracking down on health tourism”, an important though relatively minor financial amelioration, has a wider and justifiable significance.
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