In our previous blog post, we introduced initial findings from our research project. These findings have pointed to the life-changing impact for migrants with no access to statutory support of the ‘Everyone In’ government response to homelessness during COVID-19.
Whilst the suspension of eligibility criteria in relation to immigration status meant that migrants previously ineligible were offered unprecedented statutory support in securing somewhere safe to stay, ‘Everyone In’ was not simply a celebratory moment. Instead, just as it produced new opportunities for non-UK nationals experiencing homelessness, it also reproduced various inequalities in support provisions.
'Everyone In': a temporary response
First and foremost, it is crucial to problematise the temporary nature of the ‘Everyone In’ response, and the lack of attention to what would become of migrants in receipt of emergency accommodation once eligibility criteria were reintroduced.
Indeed, as the statutory framework at the level of legislative power and policy remained unchanged throughout the pandemic, local authorities were left to make accommodation decisions on the basis of available funding and their ad hoc interpretation of the legislation. This led to inconsistencies across local authorities as to the length and breadth of emergency accommodation provisions.
A swift return to 'normal'
In numerous cases eligibility criteria were swiftly brought back into support provision at the end of the first lockdown. This meant that whilst UK-nationals were allowed to stay in the emergency accommodation provided, the majority of migrants without access to statutory support were forced to leave.
One support worker captures just how quickly the positive impact of ‘Everyone In’ appeared to be reversed:
Indeed, our research – conducted across three cities in England – has shown that support workers spent much of the ‘Everyone In’ initiative fearful of what would happen to the migrants in their care who were not able to access statutory support once lockdown ended:
As this support worker underscores, the abrupt reintroduction of eligibility criteria in relation to immigration status reaffirmed racialised inequalities in statutory homelessness support. Whilst offering migrants temporary support proved life-changing for those who were able to secure more permanent accommodation, for others it led to fresh trauma in their sudden return to the streets.
Resolving immigration statuses: a race against time for support workers
Whether a migrant was able to secure permanent housing through ‘Everyone In’ depended on the ability of support workers to resolve their immigration status ahead of eviction deadlines. Whilst for some organisations immigration support had been part of their provision prior to COVID-19, for others this was entirely uncharted territory.
One support worker interviewed described how, up until the pandemic, she had only been working in homelessness support as a casual volunteer, but was now required to deal with complex cases of unresolved immigration status for which she felt wholly unprepared:
The ability to work out what was needed was a matter of housing or homelessness for some migrant service users, and support workers were well aware of the immense responsibility on their shoulders. This led to traumatic emotional experiences for support workers and migrants alike:
An increase in local government surveillance
Just as the suspension of eligibility criteria led to new communities of service users in homelessness support organisations, ‘Everyone In’ also necessitated closer working relationships with local governments in the management of emergency accommodation.
This led to various local authority interventions with the goal of overseeing how ‘Everyone In’ funding was being put to use. In the case of one organisation, this led to a private security presence at accommodation blocks, which support workers found encroaching and problematic:
In addition to private security the local authority placed conditions on accommodation provided by the scheme, leading to evictions that the organisation itself had no power to overturn, and which put service users at risk:
What future for migrants?
Support services across the country hoped that ‘Everyone In’ would lead to long-term change in government funding and policy, with the temporary suspension of eligibility criteria highlighting the crisis of migrant homelessness in the UK. However, the return to ‘normal’ has also meant a return to the immigration policies that have for so long blocked migrants from accessing support.
For now, it appears that the temporary solution of ‘Everyone In’ will not lead to permanent change for the vast majority of migrants, leaving many once again vulnerable to homelessness.
This post is part of a series titled Homeless Migrants and COVID-19: Mapping the layers of crisis.
This post reflects the views of the University of Portsmouth research team only, and not those of our project collaborators, the homelessness charity St Mungo's.
Author: Dr Charlotte Sanders.