THE STEP CHANGE GREATER MANCHESTER CONSORTIUM IS WORKING TOGETHER TO SUPPORT PEOPLE LIVING IN HOTEL ACCOMMODATION IN MANCHESTER.
As a result of this support, people have reported an increase in their wellbeing and their ability to access services independently – but this is not good enough. The government must stop using hotel accommodation and house people in communities to ensure safety, dignity, access to service provision and the possibility for people to rebuild their lives.
The Step Change consortium – a collaborative approach
The Step Change consortium is a 3.5 year programme funded by the National Lottery Community Fund that connects 10 asylum support charities and an Experts by Experience group across Greater Manchester (GM). Through a programme of developing place based and specialist service provision, sector development and advocacy, our joint purpose as a consortium is to develop a joined-up and sustainable ecosystem of support for refugees and people seeking asylum in Greater Manchester.
As a collective of organisations working to strengthen the refugee and asylum support provision in GM, we aim to be able to respond quickly to new developments. The past two years has seen unprecedented levels of change in the policy landscape surrounding people seeking safety, and the practical support needed: including the arrival of those fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan and Ukraine, the challenges of Covid-19, sweeping negative changes to policy on asylum enacted by the central Government, and the cost of living crisis. One example of our collaborative response was in late 2021/early 2022, where partner organisations came together to respond to the needs of Afghans who had been housed in hotels, which you can read about here.
What is the current situation in hotels?
The Home Office has a statutory obligation to provide accommodation to people seeking asylum who would otherwise be destitute. During the COVID pandemic, as its asylum decision making function drastically slowed, the Home Office along with its contractors started to rely extensively on the use of ‘contingency accommodation’, largely hotels, to fulfil this obligation. Today, with the backlog in initial asylum decisions standing at 161,000, tens of thousands across the UK find themselves stuck waiting in hotels for months or even years – during which time they are entitled to just £9.10 per week.
The use of hotels poses serious challenges: it is well evidenced that prolonged stays of anything more than a few weeks cause harm to people seeking safety. Research shows that people in this situation experience a loss of autonomy and control, often face mental health challenges due to poor provision, and face barriers and delays when attempting to access advice or raise issues. In light of the crisis in legal aid provision, many of those stuck in hotels are left with no legal representation to help them navigate the asylum process. Alongside the difficulty of life in limbo inside hotels, the visibility of asylum seekers and migrants in hotel accommodation can make them a target for hate crime and racist groups. The use of hotels has been characterised by a lack of consultation from central Government with communities and local government, and a lack of adequate resourcing.
A collaborative approach to support
At the end of 2022, the consortium supported five organisations to collaboratively provide support to people housed in a hotel in Manchester. The focus of this work was ensuring that people had access to support and information to reduce stress, anxiety and exclusion, and protect and improve mental and physical wellbeing.
The support provided by Rainbow Haven, Caritas Shrewsbury, Manchester City of Sanctuary and Manchester Refugee Support Network included coordinating with government contracted service providers (SERCO and Migrant Help) and health agencies (GoToDoc). It supported referral pathways to health and other services, delivered advice sessions and drop ins, as well as organising donations and delivering a variety of activities around wellbeing and health. Individuals in the hotels particularly commented on how useful it was to have people supporting them who had lived experience of the asylum process.
The feedback from individuals in the hotel was overwhelmingly positive about this support, noting the improvement of feelings of self worth and independence to address their needs. People also noted increased connections to the community, through opportunities for skills development and volunteering as well as links to other services. Importantly, the organisations in the partnership reported strengthened trust and relationships between residents, and voluntary and public sector providers.
Everyone needs their home to provide safety, stability and community – especially people who have been forced to leave their home and start again. Whilst there have been positive impacts as a result of our collaborative work in this hotel, reflecting our strong culture of welcome, a longer term solution is urgently needed. The Government must act immediately to end the harmful use of hotel sites everywhere: by tackling its decision-making backlog; getting asylum decisions right first time; resourcing communities and ensuring that people awaiting a decision on their asylum claim are placed in suitable community based accommodation, integrated into our neighbourhoods. Consortium partner Asylum Matters has along with NACCOM produced this briefing on good practice in this area, whilst consortium partner Refugee Action has produced these principles outlining what every home should be: somewhere where people are able to stay safe, have privacy, and connect with the wider community.
If you would like to connect with the Step Change Consortium to strengthen the ecosystem of support for refugees and asylum seekers in Greater Manchester, or contribute to our collective voice in the North West, please email Monica Reeves, Step Change Consortium Manager at MonicaR@refugee-action.org.uk