The concerns that they raised regarding the ability of practitioners to respond to the needs of these groups are very interesting, and resonate with many we have spoken to in the network. NELMA has kindly written a statement for the website, looking to encourage debate, build solidarity with under pressure practitioners, and illicit change. A theme of the article is a refocus upon the common enemy: the ideological attacks by our government upon both migrants, and the social work profession asked to work with them. Solidarity, over divide and conquer, is essential. If you would like to get in touch with them, their email address is supplied below. We thank Fran and her colleagues for this article.
“Some of us working in voluntary organisations supporting migrants in north and east London have set up a campaign group (NELMA)*. We are focusing on the rising numbers of migrant families, particularly single mothers, who have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) as part of their immigration status. As a result, many face destitution and homelessness. We are disturbed that when we refer these families to children’s services they are increasingly confronted with a negative and sometimes even hostile response.
These women are trying to raise their children as best they can in impossible conditions: the children are at risk due to poverty and homelessness, not lack of care. If the Home Office had not denied them access to benefits in times of need they would not be swelling the caseloads of overburdened children’s services. The responsibility for their situation lies squarely with the government and the Home Office, as well as the local councils implementing the government’s austerity budget.
However, we are finding, for example, that homeless single mothers with small children are being turned away by emergency accommodation services and that children’s services are frequently refusing Section 17 assessments for apparently little reason. The outcome is that families with children face nights on the street, single mothers are forced into exploitative relationships to secure a roof over their heads, and many are left without the means to care for their children. Women also tell us of feeling humiliated during interviews, being urged to return to their country of origin, threatened with having their children taken away, and if they are housed, often being placed in dirty, damp or dangerous accommodation. As they are often already highly anxious and distressed, this makes an intolerable situation worse.
We believe this sort of response is due to the pressures placed on front-line social workers by a lack of dedicated government funding, severe staff shortages, impossible case loads and deep council cuts. And we were heartened to read the statement on your website in support of refugees and calling on the government to review its immigration policies. Social work organisations have shown they are aware of the problems that migrant families with NRPF face, particularly in London. BASW, for example, has publicised the 2015 COMPAS report about Section 17 and migrant families. The report gives a good assessment of the issue, but since its data was gathered the situation has grown worse.
We want to raise greater awareness of this issue amongst the social work community and start a mutually beneficial discussion. We would also like to meet with any members of SWAN located in our area, with a view to mounting a joint campaign, perhaps linking it to the stressful working conditions of front-line social services staff and the lack of funding for social services.”
*NELMA (North East London Migrant Action) comprises voluntary organisations working with migrants in North and East London: Hackney Migrant Centre (HMC), Haringey Migrant Support Centre (HMSC), Walthamstow Migrant Support Centre (WMSC) and Akwaaba (a Hackney social drop-in for migrants). We have been joined by other campaign groups in the area, such as Haringey Housing Action Group (HAG).