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A couple of weeks ago I was able to see first-hand the true extent of street homelessness in Bristol as I joined the St Mungo’s outreach team very early on a Friday morning.

Here’s the press release I agreed with St Mungo’s; and at the end you’ll find a link to their ‘Stop the Scandal’ campaign for a new national rough sleeping strategy. I will do everything I can to support the excellent work St Mungo’s do.


Thangam Debbonaire MP sees how St Mungo’s supports people rough sleeping in Bristol

Thangam Debbonaire, Labour MP for Bristol West, met staff and heard about the work of St Mungo’s in Bristol after joining an early morning shift with workers from the local homelessness team.

On Friday morning (7 July) the local MP joined the St Mungo’s outreach team as they went out across Bristol city centre to support people sleeping rough to find safe accommodation and help connect them with health and social care services.

Recent national research by homelessness charity St Mungo’s showed that four in ten people sleeping rough have a mental health problem. Over half of people from the UK who are sleeping rough need support for their mental health.

St Mungo’s is calling for investment in specialist mental health support for people sleeping rough as part of its Stop the Scandal campaign for a new national rough sleeping strategy.

The charity is also calling for a change in the law to stop people with nowhere to live from being left to sleep on the streets. St Mungo’s is urging all MPs to back the new Homelessness Reduction Bill, introduced to Parliament last week. 

Thangam Debbonaire MP said: “My view of the city has been changed forever by St Mungo's dedicated outreach workers. They showed me the true extent of street homelessness in Bristol, and explained to me the need for specialist mental health and addiction help as well as housing. I went straight from this visit to meet the Mayor, Marvin Rees, who shares my desire to end street homelessness, and discuss how we can do this. Thank you to the outreach workers who showed me what is really going on in our city. I will do everything I can to support their excellent work.”

David Ingerslev, St Mungo’s Service Manager in Bristol, said: “I’m glad Thangam Debbonaire MP could take this opportunity to see the reality of rough sleeping first hand. Our staff go out night after night to assist people sleeping rough in Bristol. Rough sleeping in the city is, unfortunately, on the rise – the official estimate was 97 people sleeping rough on the night of the annual street count in November 2015, this is an increase from 41 people in 2014 and less than 10 people in 2012. What we do is try to help people off the streets as quickly as possible and help them tackle problems that lead them there.”

Howard Sinclair, St Mungo’s Chief Executive, said: “Our national research found that people sleeping rough with a mental health problem are stuck on the streets for longer. To end rough sleeping for good, we need to turn local action into national change. That’s why I would ask members of the public to join us and support our Stop the Scandal campaign.”

Sign the St Mungo’s open letter at www.mungos.org/stopthescandal

Those concerned about someone sleeping rough in their neighbourhood can contact the national referral service StreetLink on 0300 500 0914 or at www.streetlink.org.uk.

Street homelessness in Bristol

A couple of weeks ago I was able to see first-hand the true extent of street homelessness in Bristol as I joined the St Mungo’s outreach team very early on...

 

Refugees Welcome? Experiences of new refugees in the UK

I am proud to announce that the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Refugees, which I chair, will on 19 July 2016 launch an inquiry into the experiences of new refugees in the UK. The inquiry will consider the experiences of refugees who have claimed asylum in the UK, as well as those of refugees who have arrived in the UK through other paths, such as resettlement. In particular, the inquiry will focus on the integration of new refugees, including success in finding employment, securing accommodation and, where appropriate, help with English language skills.

The inquiry is being carried out by a cross-party committee of MPs and peers, chaired by me. Secretariat support is being provided by the Refugee Council. People in Bristol West have consistently told me throughout my time as MP that they want me to prioritise the improving the help for refugees, here and abroad. I committed to work on improving the lives of refugees and improving the public and political understanding of refugees and their needs when I was elected chair of the APPG Refugees in July 2015.

This inquiry is part of that commitment.

Background to the inquiry

In 2015, 11,419 people were granted refugee status or another form of protection after applying for asylum in the United Kingdom. In addition, 1,864 people were resettled in the UK, while 3,234 people successfully appealed a negative decision on their asylum application.[1] At the same time, the world is facing what has been called the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War. According to the UN’s Refugee Agency, one in every 113 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum.[2]

In the face of the scale of the global refugee crisis, much focus within and outside of Parliament has been on how the UK should respond, both in terms of the number of refugees provided with protection in the UK and the support provided to countries hosting large numbers of refugees. Less focus has been given to experiences of new refugees in the UK. This will be the focus of this inquiry.

Refugees living in the UK will generally either have made an application for asylum after arriving in the UK and then had a decision made on that application, or have come to the UK under a resettlement scheme (see below).

The asylum system

It is not possible to claim asylum in the United Kingdom without being physically present in the country. An individual who has made an application for asylum is generally not allowed to work while their application is outstanding.[3] The majority of asylum seekers receive financial assistance and accommodation from the Home Office under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 while awaiting a decision. If the Home Office decides to grant refugee status following the consideration of an asylum application, the applicant remains eligible for Home Office support for a further 28 days.[4] This 28-day period is sometimes referred to as the ‘move-on’ period, as during this time newly recognised refugees are expected to ‘move-on’ from Home Office support to other forms of financial and housing provision. This may involve moving into employment or making a claim for welfare benefits and seeking accommodation either from the private or social sectors. People granted refugee status or humanitarian protection after going through the asylum system are given five years limited leave to remain.

Resettled refugees

The UK works with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and others to resettle refugees from around the world. The UK currently runs a number of resettlement programmes including the two largest schemes: the Gateway Protection Programme, resettling around 750 refugees from around the world each year, and The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, due to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the current Parliament plus a further 3,000 children at risk and their families from the Middle East and North Africa.

The UNHCR identifies refugees across the world who are in need of resettlement. These are refugees for whom there is no sustainable future in the region. Many of the refugees resettled to the UK will have been living in refugee camps for several years. According to latest figures, worldwide UNHCR has identified over 1 million refugees in need of resettlement.[5]

UNHCR works in partnership with the UK Government to decide which refugees will be resettled to the UK through the Gateway Protection Programme and the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. Refugees who come through the resettlement programmes arriving in the UK with immigration status, and so do not need to go through the asylum system. People resettled to the UK through the Gateway Protection Programme receive refugee status and indefinite leave to remain upon arrival. Those refugees resettled through the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme are granted Humanitarian Protection and five years limited leave (rather than refugee status).

Inquiry terms of reference

The inquiry will explore the experiences of refugees who have either been recently recognised as refugees after making an application for asylum in the UK or who have been resettled to the UK. In particular, the inquiry will examine the support available, both from statutory bodies and civil society, and how this helps refugees to feel welcome and integrate in the UK. This includes:

  • the effectiveness of any  Government refugee integration strategy;
  • the support available to refugees to help them gain access to the job market and other services;
  • what impact, if any, the type of immigration leave granted to refugees in the UK has on their integration;
  • what differences there are in the support available to refugees who have arrived in the UK after being resettled compared to those who have gone through the UK asylum system;
  • what barriers, if any, there are to refugees integrating in the UK; and
  • whether there are particular barriers to integration faced by different groups of refugees, for example by women or LGBTI refugees.

The panel will also look at what measures are in place to support communities who are providing a home to refugees and what more could be done to support those communities.

Inquiry panel

  • Thangam Debbonaire MP (Chair)
  • David Burrowes MP
  • Ruth Cadbury MP
  • Lord Alf Dubs
  • Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham
  • Baroness Lister
  • Jeremy Lefroy MP
  • Caroline Lucas MP
  • Helen Whately MP
  • Baroness Barbara Janke
  • TBC (SNP)

Submitting evidence

The inquiry panel invites written evidence from a broad range of stakeholders, including government representatives and civil servants, local authorities, charities, researchers, and voluntary organisations working with refugees and refugees themselves. Evidence from people who have direct personal experience of the support systems for newly arrived and newly recognised refugees in the UK is particularly welcome.

For people who have experience of being a refugee in the UK, the panel would welcome evidence about:

  • What were your experiences of being a newly resettled or newly recognised refugee in the UK?
  • Did you/do you have any support from any organisations to help you access services, such as doctors’ appointments or housing?
  • Were there/are there any services that were easier to access? Were there/are there any services that were more difficult to access?

For organisations and people who work with/support refugees in the UK, the panel would welcome evidence regarding:

  • How far does current UK policy and legislation allow newly resettled and newly recognised refugees to integrate and rebuild their lives here?
  • Are there any particular barriers that newly resettled and newly recognised refugees face?
  • Are there any areas of good practice where refugees are being supported successfully? Are there any differences in support in the different regions of the UK?
  • Is support provided to vulnerable refugees, including those who are disabled or who have been victims of torture, adequate?
  • Do particular groups of new refugees, such as LGBTI refugees or refugee women, face any specific barriers to experiencing a welcome in Britain?
  • What support is available to local communities who are accommodating refugees? What more could be done to support local communities who may be impacted by refugees?

We understand that many of the organisations working with refugees are small and/or may only work on specific issues within this inquiry. We welcome your views on the basis of the experiences and expertise that you have.  If you work with a small organisation and want help facilitating a session to gather evidence, we may be able to put you in touch with someone who can help. Please see the contact details below.

The deadline for submitting written evidence is 1 October 2016. Ideally, submissions should not be longer than 3,000 words, and previously published evidence may be submitted for this inquiry. Please be aware that submissions may be published unless exemption is requested. If an organisation or person request that their evidence be published anonymously it will be published but without naming the submitter (i.e. under the title ‘anonymous’).

The Refugee Council provide the secretariat to the APPG on Refugees, and evidence will be submitted via them.

Email

Please send electronic evidence to jonathan.featonby@refugeecouncil.org.uk. Electronic evidence should be submitted in Word (or equivalent) format.

Post

You can send a hard copy of your evidence to: Jonathan Featonby, Refugee Council, PO Box 68614, London, E15 9DQ.

Oral evidence

The panel will hold oral evidence sessions during October and November 2016. If you would be willing to provide oral evidence, please indicate this in your written submission.

Inquiry timeline                         Activity

19 July 2016                                       Inquiry opens with call for evidence

1 October 2016                                               Deadline for written evidence

October and November 2016             Oral Evidence sessions

Early 2017                                          Report published

 

Any questions?

For updates on the progress of the inquiry please visit: http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/refugees_welcome_inquiry

Or follow the inquiry on twitter using the twitter handle: @APPGRefugees

For questions or to add your name to the mailing list please contact Jonathan Featonby at: jonathan.featonby@refugeecouncil.org.uk

To contact me please email: thangam.debbonaire.mp@parliament.uk

About the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees

All-party groups are informal groups of members of both houses with a common interest in particular issues. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees works to provide a forum for the discussion of issues relating to refugees, both in the UK and abroad, and to promote the welfare of refugees.  Through regular meetings, cross-party discussions and inquiries, the group seeks to explore, discuss and debate any key issues connected to refugees. The group aims to be a powerful voice in the promotion of the welfare of refugees. 

 



[1] Home Office Immigration Statistics, January-March 2016

[2] UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015 http://www.unhcr.org/statistics/country/576408cd7/unhcr-global-trends-2015.html

[3] Individuals who have been waiting longer than 12 months for an initial decision on their asylum application can apply for permission to work. If they are granted permission to work, individuals may only take up an employment offer if it is on the shortage occupation list.

[4] See regulation 2(2) of The Asylum Support Regulations 2000, as amended by The Asylum Support (Amendment) Regulations 2002 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2002/472/regulation/3/made

[5] UNHCR, UNHCR Refugee Resettlement Trends 2015, http://www.unhcr.org/559e43ac9.html

APPG Inquiry on Experiences of Refugees in the UK

  Refugees Welcome? Experiences of new refugees in the UK I am proud to announce that the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Refugees, which I chair, will on 19 July...

Many people have asked me for specific examples of my problems are with Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.

Here is my experience.

On 14th January 2016, Jeremy announced that he had appointed me as a Shadow Minister for Arts and Culture without my knowledge or consent while I was in the middle of cancer treatment.

He then sacked me the next day when he realised he had given away part of someone else's role. 

But didn't bother to tell me that either.

By the time I had sought and received confirmation from the Labour Whips office that I was indeed Shadow Arts and Culture Minister, to serve under Shadow Arts and Culture Secretary Maria Eagle MP, my office had been besieged by press and the story was out. I decided to make the best of it and to serve. I worked on his arts policy while I was still having treatment but in Bristol. Bristol West constituents said they were delighted - a good fit for the constituency, and a good decision to ask someone who has an arts background, which I have.

Six weeks later, after being asked every week to do so by Maria Eagle when she met him at Shadow Cabinet (I wasn't a member of the Shadow Cabinet, only the Shadow Secretaries of State sit in that meeting) Jeremy finally phoned me.

I discovered then that he had made a mistake back at the start and having given me part of someone else's role, gave it back the next day. I said that I was not happy about this, as I had spent six weeks working on his arts policy, getting in touch with arts organisations and so on. He invited me to come and have a chat with him the following week.

Contrary to what he frequently says, Jeremy is not easy to 'have a chat with'. My parliamentary assistant could not get an appointment with him until she went to his office and explained over and over again that I had been promised one.

When my assistant and I met him, I asked how I was supposed to explain the confusion to Bristol West members or constituents. I was faced with the choice of telling the truth that he had made a series of errors, or say I had changed my mind about accepting the role. Either way I would inevitably face a pile of criticism from his supporters. Corbyn supporters had already piled into me for disloyalty when I had had to miss votes for cancer treatment. I had no confidence that he would explain the situation to his supporters, or ask them to trust him that it wasn't my fault. I knew he wouldn't do anything to stop the criticism - I had seen from my own experience that he didn't directly call on his own supporters to follow his slogan of 'kinder, gentler, politics'.

At this meeting, despite the fact he had had six weeks to come up with some idea for how to deal with this, he had nothing to say. No idea what to do. It took my boss Maria Eagle to explain to him that as he was leader he could reappoint me if that was what he wanted. 

I then worked hard for him on his arts policy, loyally didn't go to the press about the above, got stuck in and worked. And yes, I enjoyed the role; it is one of my dream jobs in parliament and I worked hard for Jeremy and the Labour Party. Millions of people work in the arts and culture sectors and they valued being involved in policy-making. So it was never my intention to resign.

However, I kept hearing from other colleagues on the front bench just how difficult or impossible it was to get a decision out of him on important policy issues - the very thing Jeremy is supposed to be good on. I also noticed that the policy making process through the National Policy Forum was being slowed down by lack of decisions from the Corbyn office.

But then he was missing in action during the EU referendum, including going on a week's holiday three weeks before the day. I found that unforgivable. I was doing all I could for the campaign, phone-canvassing to conserve my energy, and kept hearing Labour voters saying 'but your leader wants out, doesn't he?' His team didn't send anyone to the EU Campaign meetings in Westminster and his lack of enthusiasm showed.

On the day after the referendum he asked for an early Brexit. My constituents want exactly the opposite and were telling me so in their hundreds, and voted strongly to remain.

That was the tipping point for me - you cannot remain on the front bench while taking an opposing view to the leader on something so important.

I therefore had to resign.

The reason I then voted 'no confidence' in him as leader is because I have no confidence in him as leader. See above. Plus I had found out from other front bench women how unwilling and unable Jeremy is to communicate with, listen to or work with anyone outside his narrow group.

Since then he has stated publicly that he isn't prioritising winning elections. How can I support a Labour leader who doesn't want to form a Labour government when working people, the old, the young, the poor, the country, need a Labour government above everything?

I want a Labour government more than anything, because that is how we change the world and how we help millions of people, just as the 1997-2010 Labour government helped millions of people, my own family included.

I profoundly wish I never had to say all this publicly, but people keep asking, and I believe they have a right to know the truth about what Corbyn's leadership is like.

We cannot win general elections with a leader who is unable and unwilling to learn how to communicate with, listen to and persuade people with whom he doesn't already agree - we need to convince swing voters who voted Tory last year in Southern seats to vote Labour next time and we need Labour voters in Wales and the North to continue to vote Labour - without this we can't win a general election.

That is what's at stake. Not having a Labour government again is unbearable. I will do anything I can to help to ensure this. It's the constitutional duty of all Labour MPs, especially the leader, to try to secure a better life for working class people through parliamentary means. And that's what I will continue to do.

I hope that's clear.

Why I have no confidence in Mr Corbyn's leadership

Many people have asked me for specific examples of my problems are with Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. Here is my experience. On 14th January 2016, Jeremy announced that he had appointed...

Thangam Debbonaire is the MP for Bristol West constituency. 

If you would like to contact Thangam to arrange a meeting or discuss a problem, please email thangam.debbonaire.mp@parliament.uk . 

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