Council leader slams Home Office over refugees

Waltham Forest Council leader, Grace Williams, has criticised the Home Office for placing hundreds of refugees in a local hotel with “no prior notice” and often “inadequate food”.

Last Thursday (August 11), the Labour leader said she recently visited a hotel housing 400 “recently arrived” people who have fled Afghanistan and Ukraine.

According to Cllr Williams, the council and local voluntary sector have been scrambling to provide the new arrivals to Waltham Forest with “intensive support” due to a lack of notice from the Home Office.

She said the situation is being made worse by “lack of coordination and help” from the government department, whose level of support “does not meet these families’ needs”.

She added: “There is no practical help with clothing, toys or other basics, nor a plan for finding them more suitable accommodation. They are often provided with inadequate food and it’s left to local authorities and volunteers to fill the gaps.

“People arriving here need school places, help registering with GPs and, crucially for many, trauma support. We are now lobbying the Home Office for a plan and the funding we need to fully support those coming here to escape conflict.”

In the coming weeks Waltham Forest Council plans to launch an appeal to residents for help with supplying essential items for refugee children.

When contacted for comment, the Home Office would not respond to Cllr Williams’ criticism about poor communication and planning.

A spokesperson for the department said it is dealing with an “unprecedented increase” in asylum cases but continues to ensure that accommodation provided is “safe, secure and leaves no one destitute”.

They added: “Asylum seekers receive three varied meals a day, designed to cater for cultural difference and meet NHS Eatwell Standards.”

Asylum seekers in full-board accommodation receiving full-board accommodation are given “all other essentials” and a £8.24 weekly payment to cover clothing, non-prescription medicine and travel.

London Councils, an association representing the capital’s local authorities, has warned there is already a “chronic shortage of affordable housing” in the city.

Executive member for communities Claire Holland said: “We know too many Afghan evacuees are still living in hotels. It’s an unsustainable situation, especially for the many families with children we’re supporting.

“Boroughs are very concerned by the lack of alternative housing options for these families – a particular challenge in the capital due to the chronic shortage of affordable housing here.

“London is already dealing with the most severe housing pressures and highest homelessness rates in the country.”

A Freedom of Information request shows the Home Office temporarily housed 350 asylum seekers in Waltham Forest in 2019, dropping to to 325 in 2020 then jumping to 566 in 2021.

In comparison, neighbouring Redbridge has received more than a thousand asylum seekers every year for the last three years, leading their council leader Jas Athwal to complain about the government “dumping” people in the borough earlier this year.

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter