Almost unbelievably, we’ve almost reached the end of another year, one in which the impacts of the hostile environment is seeking to create for some of the most vulnerable people in the UK have become ever more entrenched.
Over the past couple of weeks, by way of illustation we’ve been working very intensively to support ‘Fatou’ and her two children.
Fatou has been in the UK since 2009, and has a history of trauma, having experienced destitution and survived human trafficking. She is the single mother of two boys, the eldest of whom is now 6, has a diagnosis of autism, and a statement of special educational needs. The family has been supported under section 17 of the Children Act since 2015, following an intervention on ASIRT’s , surviving on just over thirty five pounds per person per week.
We also assisted with the submission of an application for leave to remain in the UK, on the basis that Fatou’s eldest son’s special educational needs could not be met in her country of origin, and that he would therefore be subject to inhuman and degrading treatment.
While this application was initially refused by the Home Office, we helped with the preparation of an appeal to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, which was won in April of this year, with the Immigration Judge agreeing with us that it was in the children’s best interests to remain in the UK, and that removal to an uncertain future would constitute a breach of their human rights. The importance of ensuring that the children be guaranteed stability and safety was central to this decision.
Following this Tribunal determination, ASIRT staff attempted to chase a revised decision from the Home office, granting this family the status the Immigration Judge had determined was theirs by legal right. The paperwork, granting just 30 months leave to remain, came through in late October, enabling Fatou finally the opportunity to seek to transition to mainstream welfare support, and to plan a future for her family in the UK including considering the options available to her for training and employment.
At the very point, however, that Fatou began to be able to look forward to the future, the family was again plunged into crisis. Having been notified that the family had been granted leave to remain, with recourse to public funds, the local authority advised Fatou that her package of section 17 support was to be terminated, necessitating eviction from what had become the family home, at 7 days’ notice. She was advised to pack her bags and report herself as homeless to the local authority’s housing team.
Reluctantly, having repeatedly stressed the importance of stability and routine in her disabled child’s life, she did as instructed- to be advised that the only ’emergency’ provision available to the family would be in the form of Bed & Breakfast accommodation some 19 miles from her son’s school, and poorly served by public transport. The child has therefore not been able to attend school.
Despite protestations and representations, the social services department stood by its decision to evict. The social worker responsible for the decision to terminate support now claims to have closed the case. Fatou and her family have spent the past 10 days in the available B&B: they have no cooking facilities, and are living on a diet of crisps and cornflakes. The ‘hotel’ itself is adjacent to a Motorway Service Station. There are no shops or other facilities within walking distance. Fatou’s eldest son is struggling to cope with this transition, and the improvements in his wellbeing and behavior brought about by the structure and routine afforded to him in an educational setting specifically designed to deal with his needs have quickly and noticeably been reversed. Fatou has been advised that she can expect to remain in these circumstances until the New Year.
We consider this situation to be a travesty of justice. Fatou’s son, being a child with a disability, is child in need, under the terms of the Children Act 1989, irrespective of his the questions of his mother’s immigration status or recourse to public funds. We believe that the local authority is failing in its duties towards this vulnerable family, and we simply cannot understand why the decision has been taken to return them to a situation of crisis, destitution and precarious housing at the precise point of their grant of leave to remain, rather than to work with the family and other agencies to manage a smooth and successful transition to life with leave to remain.
We are presently exploring legal options to ensure, at the very least, that appropriate support is in place during the period of the family’s tenure in B&B to ensure that Fatou’s son can attend school. We have already successfully challenged the Department for Work & Pensions failure to provide Income Support payments following termination of the local authority’s section 17 support, further exacerbating the poverty and despair into which the family, wholly avoidably, has been consigned.
And, perhaps most heartbreakingly of all, we know that Fatou may have to go through all this again in just over two years time, when she will need to try to renew the family’s leave to remain in the UK.
More than ever, there is a need to ensure that families like Fatou’s are able to access the justice systematically denied them by a system seeking to impoverish, immiserate and humiliate them.
If you are able to help support ASIRTs work into 2018 and beyond, we would be truly grateful.