I have recently written to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel MP, to raise issues with the conditions at Urban House initial accommodation centre in Wakefield, which is operated by the Mears Group.
Despite Mears having a £1.15 billion contract with the Home Office, volunteer groups including Yorkshire Refugee Foodbank are having to provide food, PPE, clothing and toys to Urban House residents due to Mears’ failure to support them. Residents are being forced to share toilets and bathrooms, going long periods without access to soap, and struggling to access healthcare.
Everyone should be given access to safe and dignified accommodation. This is especially important in the middle of a global pandemic. It is simply unacceptable that companies such as Mears have received billions from the Home Office to deliver inadequate, unhygienic accommodation and put people at risk of infection from the coronavirus.
I asked Home Secretary Priti Patel why Urban House was permitted to reopen when the conditions that led to a covid-19 outbreak in July still remain, and called on her to urgently review Mears’ operations during the pandemic, and the conditions residents have been subjected to.
If you would like to donate to Yorkshire Refugee Foodbank, you can do so here.
Public Accounts Committee report
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, has recently published a report detailing major concerns with new asylum service contracts.
The Home Office is responsible for the delivery of housing and support services to people seeking asylum in the UK while their cases are being processed. These services are contracted out – in 2016 the PAC Committee raised concerns about the management of COMPASS, the previous contracts, and in late 2019 the Home Office introduced new contracts to provide accommodation and a new helpline and support service, AIRE.
The Department is paying an estimated 28% more to the new providers than for the COMPASS contracts, and the Public Accounts Committee says it must now prove it is getting value for both the taxpayer and those who rely on its services. Early signs show there is a long way to go before the Home Office delivers what it has promised on accommodation and essential services for asylum seekers.
Our report argued that the lack of preparation and failure to share data meant elements of the new services were “set up to fail”. The failure to have effective services fully up and running in the first year has had a significant impact on the lives of asylum seekers, hugely exacerbated by the pandemic crisis.
Thousands of people continue to be placed in hotels rather than more appropriate accommodation. Approximately 9,500 asylum seekers are currently accommodated in 91 hotels across the UK.