On Monday (13th August), the UK Government announced the publication of a new Rough Sleeping Strategy, one piece of a wider set of proposals aiming to half rough sleeping by 2022, and end it completely by 2027.
Despite significant coverage in the morning media, the publication of the full strategy was delayed until the early afternoon.
The strategy revolves around three key pillars – prevention, intervention and recovery. Whilst the commitment to end rough sleeping is evident, how this will play out in practice is yet to be seen. With the Government recently accepting that no new money has been made available to action the activities outlined in the strategy, it is hard to see how such important interventions will be able to bear fruits.
One of they key omissions in the strategy is any consideration of those living with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF). This includes people who have leave to remain, but a NRPF condition placed on that leave, as well as those who have no leave to remain in the UK, and as ‘overstayers’ or ‘irregular migrants’ have an automatic NRPF condition.
Having NRPF is often a significant cause of homelessness and rough sleeping amongst migrants. If you are subject to a NRPF condition, you are not eligible for housing support from the local authority, or access to mainstream welfare benefits. For those with legal status, they may be able to work to support themselves, however, those who have no legal status – such as refused asylum seekers who are no longer eligible for HO support – are forced to rely on charities, friends and faith groups to survive.
It is no secret that enforced destitution is often used as a deterrent, aimed at encouraging those who have no leave to remain in the UK to return to their countries of origin. However, it is well known that this rarely happens. Rather, enforced destitution pushes people further away from the support they need; they are forced underground, not overseas.
The Rough Sleeping Strategy also misses a key opportunity to protect newly granted refugees from homelessness. Unlike other countries across Europe, refugees in the UK are expected to secure housing, mainstream welfare benefits or work within 28 days of being granted refugee status. Routinely, newly granted refugees are evicted from the accommodation they are provided with whilst waiting for a decision on their claim, before they are able to find alternative accommodation. This leaves many sofa surfing, in night shelters, or even rough sleeping.
Without fully addressing the structural causes of rough sleeping amongst migrants – particularly those with NRPF or newly granted refugees – the Rough Sleeping Strategy will always fall short.