Sue Lukes

Making it less easy for migrants

Sue Lukes

LAST YEAR DAVID CAMERON told ITV News that migrants were ‘seeking a better life’ because we have ‘jobs, a growing economy and it’s an incredible place to live’. But he insisted it was now harder for migrants to get bank accounts and council houses, and more legislation was being passed to make Britain a ‘less easy place to stay’.

And of course he is as good as his word. Parliament, pursuing a stated government intention to make the UK a ‘hostile environment’ for undocumented migrants, passed a law in 2014 that, among other restrictions on bank accounts and driving licences, made landlords check the documents of anyone moving into a flat. But in 2016 Parliament is now discussing a bill that will actually remove an existing tenant’s rights on account of their immigration status.

So we now have people in the UK who have no right to live anywhere, and landlords will be fined if they offer them accommodation. Who decides who is the disqualified occupier? The short answer is the government. Irrespective of the tenancy agreement you signed, the deposit you paid, the years you have lived there, if the Home Secretary decides that you no longer have the “right to rent” she can tell your landlord that you lose all your security of tenure, and your landlord can evict you with 28 days notice and no court order or protection. And if he does not, he is committing a criminal offence and may face prison or an unlimited fine.

What happens to the people who have no right to rent, those evicted by landlords afraid of getting a prison sentence? Surely we have a safety net?

Yes, for some. For those with children or people with care needs in their household, there may be shelter from social services. But only if the Home Office is kept informed of where they are, so they can be removed easily. The same bill removes appeal rights from almost all cases, until after they have left the UK, which will make most such appeals impossible. And people may not necessarily be placed anywhere safe, as a recent report says: ‘Some families we interviewed were being placed in accommodation with no working toilet – one mother and her children were forced to use plastic bags to defecate. Other accommodation had no heating. Other families – overwhelmingly women and young children – were placed in accommodation with vulnerable and extremely disturbed adults.’

Child migrants are especially vulnerable. UK refugee law allows refuge to children who prove a well founded fear of persecution or human rights abuse. But they cannot then bring their parents. They have to watch them, from the other side of the world, live or die in the conditions from which they fled.

Increasingly there is a narrative about good and bad migrants, for example children, but not their parents; people who wait in proper refugee camps, not people who organise together to march across Europe and shame their governments; people who work hard, not those too sick, too tired, too old or too scared.

In reality, there are no intrinsically good or bad migrants, just people moving around the world for various reasons. Governments can try to stop them, mostly without success. They can certainly make their lives easier, more productive, happier – or make them hell. They can create places of safety and welcome, places where we can put a roof over the homeless without facing the threat of imprisonment. This bill does the opposite.

» The complete talk is available at https://


Islington North CLP