Swale Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Cllr Ben J Martin has sent an open letter to Faversham and Mid Kent MP, Helen Whately & Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP, Gordon Henderson raising concerns regarding new immigration rules and their effect on Rough Sleepers.
New rules, introduced on December 1st 2020, make rough sleeping grounds for removal for non-UK nationals. 141 charities, lawyers and local authorities have already written to the Home Office.
In the Open Letter to the local MPs, Cllr Ben J Martin says “In order to support rough sleepers to get off the streets and to start new lives, charities and local authorities first have to build trust and rapport with the rough sleepers. This can take months of work and relationship building. It requires rough sleeper outreach workers to break down the barriers many rough sleepers have built to protect themselves, alleviating fears and offering hope. These new rules are a retrograde step, which will further strengthen the feeling of fear and suspicion of authority within the rough sleeping community.”
Cllr Martin asks that the MPs contact the Home Secretary, Priti Patel and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick asking them to “reconsider the policy”
Cllr Ben J Martin said, “I have worked closely with the rough sleeper team at Swale Borough Council, I have seen first hand how difficult it can be to get rough sleepers to trust people. This new policy will make it more difficult to build that trust and support people. Many Rough Sleepers don’t have any form of ID and thus it can be difficult for them to prove their nationality. I believe this policy will have severe consequences and will play into the hands of traffickers, while also making it more difficult for Local authorities to support rough sleepers to get off the streets and into accommodation.”
Full text of the open letter is below
"Dear Helen Whately MP and Gordon Henderson MP,
As group leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Swale Borough Council, I am writing to you about major concerns I have about recent changes to the Immigration Rules published on 22 October, which will make rough sleeping grounds for refusing or cancelling someone’s right to remain in the UK from 1 December 2020. I kindly ask you to write to Home Secretary Priti Patel and Secretary of State for Housing Robert Jenrick to reconsider this policy.
I believe that these new immigration rules will push people further away from seeking support to end their rough sleeping and will also make people more vulnerable to exploitation and at risk of becoming victims of modern slavery.
Under these new rules, the Westminster Government has said that grounds for cancelling or refusing someone’s permission to be in the UK will only be used sparingly, where people have refused other support. However, the new rules do not guarantee this and will not fully mitigate the damaging impact this policy will have. The scope of the grounds to refuse or cancel someone’s right to remain in the UK as set out in the Immigration Rules is very broad. This means this policy could affect a significant number of people. For example, someone who is working here with leave to remain in the UK but is illegally evicted from a private tenancy and subsequently forced to spend a night sleeping rough could be forced to leave the country as a result of this policy.
In order to support rough sleepers to get off the streets and to start new lives, charities and local authorities first have to build trust and rapport with the rough sleepers. This can take months of work and relationship building. It requires rough sleeper outreach workers to break down the barriers many rough sleepers have built to protect themselves, alleviating fears and offering hope. These new rules are a retrograde step, which will further strengthen the feeling of fear and suspicion of authority within the rough sleeping community.
In addition, the new Immigration Rules will leave people facing the impossible situation of being pushed into exploitative and potentially dangerous work to be able to pay for a place to live, or having to sleep rough and put themselves at risk of deportation. Specialist organisations working in homelessness, including Crisis, have expressed concern that this will make the work of outreach teams trying to support people sleeping rough much harder, as people fear that engaging with services could put them at risk of being detained and deported.
I kindly ask you to write urgently to Home Secretary Priti Patel and Secretary of State for Housing Robert Jenrick to reconsider this policy decision so that no one is punished for being homeless. You can download a template letter for this here: http://bit.ly/SecStateLetter
Instead, I support calls across homelessness charities for the Government to continue the successful approach of the Everyone In scheme in England, and equivalent approaches in Scotland and Wales, which saw all people sleeping rough supported into safe accommodation where they could self-isolate. The Prime Minister announced additional funding to support local authorities to provide safe accommodation on 5 November, but many people will fear to access this vital support as these new Immigration Rules put people at risk of deportation if they do so.
Ultimately, these new immigration rules undermine the Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping in England and undermine progress to end homelessness in Scotland and Wales, while also making the job of local authorities even more difficult.
I appreciate you taking the time to read this email and hope you will take this serious issue into consideration.
Cllr Ben J Martin
Swale Liberal Democrats"