A family of asylum seekers with two teenage children and a disabled grandmother have been living “in a single room” for more than two years in Home Office accommodation, an MP has said.
Helen Hayes, Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood in London, raised concerns in the House of Commons that asylum seekers being housed in a hostel in her constituency are not being provided with appropriate clothing and food.
She said the hostel, Barry House, provides Home Office initial accommodation, provided under contract by Clearsprings, for approximately 140 asylum seekers, including “significant” numbers of children, babies and pregnant women.
Despite raising issues in Parliament in 2018, she said she still has concerns for the welfare of those housed there, and that the issues have “worsened because of the growing Home Office backlog”.
Helen Hayes UK Parliament
Ms Hayes said residents are clear the issues they are experiencing are not the fault of staff at the hostel but instead the problems are “structural, they are in the nature of the Home Office contract”.
Raising the issues in an adjournment debate in the Commons, she said: “I hear regularly from residents in Barry House who have been there for many months.
“And there is currently at least one family with two teenage children and a disabled grandmother, who have been stuck in a single room in Barry House for more than two years.
“While asylum seekers wait at Barry House, the quality of accommodation is dire.
“Barry House provides bedrooms with shared bathrooms and no kitchen facilities.
“Covid restrictions remained in place long after they had been lifted for everyone for else, meaning that the shared common room and dining space were closed, and residents also had to eat in their rooms.
“One of the most frequently raised issues at Barry House, and in the hotel accommodation, is the quality of the food.
“Residents report that the food is bland, unappetising, nutritionally poor, culturally inappropriate, often cold and repetitive.”
She said she has heard that some residents are finding the food “so unpalatable that they are only eating bread and yogurt”, and that she has heard the food provided to asylum seekers being housed in hotels is “similarly dire”.
She added: “Asylum seekers at Barry House and in hotels often experience great difficulty in accessing items which are essential for basic human dignity, like shoes, underwear and toiletries.”
Home Office minister Kevin Foster acknowledged the asylum system is “broken”, but insisted the Government is meeting its statutory obligations and that Barry House “has been improved and offers a good standard of accommodation and support”.
Ms Hayes made the comments in the Commons House of Commons
He said: “Previously I have said to the House that our asylum system is broken.
“And this is being felt most keenly in the accommodation space.
“The aftermath of the pandemic, combined with the unprecedented and unacceptable rise in dangerous small boat crossings has increased demand for support, and this has had a cumulative impact on the overall asylum estate.”
He said: “Whilst we are procuring dispersal accommodation as quickly as possible, we accept that some people are remaining in initial accommodation such as Barry House for a longer period than we would wish or would have expected.”
“We are committed to look at fixing it,” he said, explaining that the Government has moved to a new model to more effectively disperse asylum seekers across the country, increasing capacity and providing “more suitable accommodation”.
He said: “Despite the challenges we are facing we have consistently met our statutory obligations towards destitute asylum seekers.
“We do expect clear standards from our service providers, and monitor them closely to ensure they meet those standards.
“Where a essential living needs are not already provided for in hotels a cash allowance is provided. Extra assistance is provided for those who can also show they have exceptional needs.”
He added: “We believe Barry House has been improved and offers a good standard of accommodation and support.
“It has kitchen facilities on each floor, a spacious dining room, communal spaces, and dedicated areas for privacy for breastfeeding mothers and multi-faith worship.
“Bedrooms also offer wet rooms and wheelchair access throughout.”
Mr Foster said the Government would “look into” concerns raised.